Jonathan Spector’s Birmingham City will attempt to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final at St. Andrew’s tonight.
The Blues are optimistic on the back of only one defeat in ten games. They have only been beaten once at home this season and defeated the Seasiders 3-0 in Birmingham in December.
For the US international, who played the final 16 minutes of the Blues’ narrow defeat in the first leg on Friday, advancement to the play-off final at Wembley on May 19th would not only mean an immediate chance to rejoin the Premier League.
Waiting in the final are West Ham, whom Spector left last summer after five seasons. As the 26 year-old told NSC, if his contract expiry had not coincided with a change in manager, he might still be donning the claret and blue in East London.
“My contract at West Ham had run out,” said Spector, “and they offered me a new one at the end of the season but I didn't know who the management was going to be so I put that one on hold. It didn't seem like a wise decision to re-sign for the club not knowing who was going to be in charge. I was told Sam Allardyce was interested in me once he arrived but by that time my agent had already spoken to other clubs.”
Spector was certatin he wanted to stay in Europe and had been linked earlier in the season with a move to the Bundesliga, possibly FC Köln. Although the suitors, he confirms were varied:
“My agent had contact with clubs from Germany, France and Turkey as well. I think at one point there were even a couple of clubs from Spain, but ultimately I wanted to stay in England.
To have an opportunity to sign for a big club like Birmingham made it a pretty easy decision for me. It has a big fan-base and having spoken to the manager I felt pretty comfortable. He had the experience of getting Newcastle promoted and I thought that was important.”
A change of role from defender to midfielder was also key in his decision to move up to the Midlands.
“That was something I spoke to the manager about right away,” Spector confirmed. “He understood my first choice was to play in the midfield but told me I might need to help out if someone was missing from the defence. I enjoy playing right-back but ultimately wanted a run of games in the midfield. In a season as long as ours (Birmingham have played 61 games this season) injuries are bound to happen.”
Win or lose tonight, the move away from East London has paid dividends in terms of playing time with 45 appearances, by some distance his highest ever in a single season.
“That was the reason I came to Birmingham - as well as the club and the ambition of the manager. I have enjoyed my time at the club thus far and will enjoy it even more if we get back to the Premier League.”
The Blues have looked a good bet for the play-offs all season. Despite at one stage looking like they could challenge for the top two, they instead settled in fourth, ten points behind the Hammers.
“I think this season like any has had its ups and downs," said Spector. “We did not get off to a great start which was probably inevitable as we had a lot of new faces and a new manager and we needed to gel. Then we were disappointed not to advance to the knock-out stages of the Europa League having got ten points in the first round, but that is the way it goes sometimes.”
The Illinois-born player remains confident his team can overturn the first-leg deficit, despite Blackpool arriving at St. Andrews buoyant on an unbeaten run of eight games.
“We all feel we can attain promotion this season,” he repeated. “The club has the ambition to be promoted right away. We would have liked to have done it automatically of course but now that we are in the playoffs anything can happen.”
Aged 26, Spector has been playing in England for eight years now, a stretch of time which gives him pause for thought:
“I view it as a lot of great experiences. It is a relatively short career and you want to make the most of it. I have enjoyed my time wherever I have been and met some great people along the way. All these games are great. Travel certainly takes a toll but the more I do it the more I become accustomed to it.
All my clubs have been a learning experience, but playing more consistently, I have enjoyed the time at Birmingham more than I did at West Ham and Charlton.”
“I spent five years at West Ham which is a pretty long time at a club. I enjoyed it there, it is a really good club but it was just time to move on. Absolutely no regrets.
I have great feelings about the club so I wish West Ham the very best, but just not at our expense!”
- Sean O'Conor