DEM: I’LL AIM FOR PREM WITH BLUES

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Joshua Richards

TAL­ENTED winger De­marai Gray has boosted Blues fans as the sea­son kicks off by in­sist­ing: “I want to play in the Premier League – with Birm­ing­ham.”

And the 19-year-old’s warned Cham­pi­onship de­fences that they’ll have to be on their game to stop him wreak­ing havoc this sea­son.

It’s not be­yond the realms of pos­si­bil­ity that Gray could al­ready have been play­ing in the top flight. The Blues re­jected four bids from Bournemouth in Jan­uary, fol­low­ing in­ter­est from Crys­tal Palace 12 months ago.

But rather than en­dure another trans­fer win­dow tug-of-war for his ser­vices, Birm­ing­ham tied down their £5m-rated tal­is­man on a new three-year deal last month.

Loyal

And the 19-yearold, who shot to promi­nence with a 34minute hat-trick against Read­ing in De­cem­ber, is de­ter­mined to prove stay­ing loyal to his home­town club and re­ject­ing the bright lights of the Premier League is the best course of ac­tion for his long-term fu­ture.

“I had a few dif­fer­ent opin­ions in my ear and at my age it is very im­por­tant to make the right de­ci­sion,” said Gray, who spent the early part of his sum­mer with the Eng­land U20 squad at the an­nual Toulon Tour­na­ment.

“I spoke with my fam­ily and my rep­re­sen­ta­tives and I think we all agreed it was best for me to stay. I knew I would be hap­pi­est here, be­cause I’m play­ing football and the fact that I can do so at home is a bonus.

“I want to de­velop and play as much as pos­si­ble and the staff at Birm­ing­ham make me feel like I’m im­prov­ing all the time. So I be­lieve I can keep de­vel­op­ing here and that Birm­ing­ham is the right place to play my football.

“I be­lieve in my own abil­ity and of course I want to play in the Premier League in my ca­reer. But right now the most im­por­tant thing is to play ev­ery week for a man­ager that has faith in me.

“I want to play at the very top and you never know what the fu­ture holds, but I love the Blues and I want to play in the Premier League with Birm­ing­ham.

“I want to im­prove my num­bers this sea­son, get more goals and as­sists. I need to be more con­sis­tent, but hope­fully I can be a threat to ev­ery de­fence in the Cham­pi­onship.”

Birm­ing­ham fin­ished tenth in the Cham­pi­onship last term, de­spite record­ing just two wins be­fore Novem­ber.

Sur­prise

De­spite that form, un­der boss Gary Rowett this sea­son the book­mak­ers ex­pect Birm­ing­ham to be in a rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle rather than a push for pro­mo­tion.

But Gray be­lieves the Blues can spring a few sur­prises this term and that ad­di­tions to the squad such as Ar­se­nal’s Jon Toral can see them to the top six.

“We had a good sea­son in the end last year, fin­ish­ing tenth, but we were al­ways play­ing catch-up af­ter a slow start,” Gray added.

“We need to get off to the right start and I think we can push for the play-offs. There is no rea­son why we can’t get the ex­tra points to go from tenth to sixth.

“We’ve got new ad­di­tions that are a big bonus to us and we had a pos­i­tive pre-sea­son. We ran Premier League op­po­si­tion in Le­ices­ter very close and we took a lot from that game.

“I think we’re in for a good sea­son.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

WARM­ING UP: De­marai Gray cel­e­brates scor­ing in his side’s 3-2 friendly de­feat against Le­ices­ter and, inset, in typ­i­cal ac­tion for the Blues against Not­ting­ham For­est

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