VIV’S CATCHING PAL GRAY...

But can’t beat him at FIFA!

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Joshua Richards

TEENAGER Viv Solomon-Ota­bor is play­ing catch-up on fel­low Birm­ing­ham winger De­marai Gray, but there is no hint of jeal­ousy to­wards his team-mate.

Solomon-Ota­bor, 19, scored his first se­nior goal last week­end af­ter com­ing off the bench in Birm­ing­ham’s 5-2 win at Ful­ham, but is yet to make a start.

By com­par­i­son Gray, who is six months Solomon-Ota­bor’s el­der and made his 70th ap­pear­ance for the Blues in the same game, has be­come a main­stay in the Eng­land Un­der-21 squad and was the sub­ject of a £5m bid from Bournemouth ear­lier this year.

Pace

But Solomon-Ota­bor knows his time will come and be­lieves St An­drews is big enough for both of them.

“We’ve played to­gether since we were young and we’ve al­ways done okay,” said Solomon-Ota­bor. “There are sim­i­lar­i­ties in our games, but I maybe have more pace and power.

“It’s not been dif­fi­cult for me to watch him be­cause he’s a very good friend.

“We’re al­ways go­ing out to eat to­gether or play­ing FIFA – he al­ways beats me! And if any­thing, he gave me in­spi­ra­tion that I could do what he’s done.

“I’m happy for him. I’ve been at Birm­ing­ham since I was 16 and he was the first guy I met at the club. So I was happy to see him break through first.”

Though Solomon-Ota­bor and Gray came through the ranks to­gether, there is noth­ing sim­i­lar about how the pair ar­rived at the club.

Gray is a born and bred Brum­mie, while Solomon-Ota­bor grew up in Streatham, south Lon­don.

At the age of 16 he was re­leased by Crys­tal Palace and, af­ter im­press­ing in a trial, was snapped up by Birm­ing­ham.

Solomon-Ota­bor headed to the sec­ond city with­out his par­ents, liv­ing in digs, and it was again Gray and team­mate Reece Brown who helped him even­tu­ally make Birm­ing­ham feel like home.

“At first I couldn’t cope,” added Solomon-Ota­bor. “I was miss­ing my fam­ily.

“I wasn’t used to liv­ing in digs. Liv­ing with a dif­fer­ent fam­ily was quite tough, though they took me in and treated me like one of their own.

“When I was play­ing foot­ball I was fine, but away from the pitch it was very hard. It must have looked to peo­ple like I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t smile.

“But as time went on I set­tled down and then in my sec­ond sea­son I felt con­fi­dent around the place. I hung around with De­marai and Reece – it was im­por­tant to have a couple of good mates around.”

The har­mony in the Birm­ing­ham dress­ing room is pay­ing div­i­dends on the pitch this term.

Har­mony

Though man­ager Gary Rowett – who de­scribes Solomon-Ota­bor as the quick­est player at Birm­ing­ham – has a rel­a­tively small squad, they are sit­ting com­fort­ably in sixth place with more wins away from home than any other team in the Cham­pi­onship.

Those at St An­drews are not get­ting car­ried away, af­ter re­cent rel­e­ga­tion bat­tles and cam­paigns cul­mi­nat­ing in mid-ta­ble medi­ocrity, but SolomonOta­bor sees no rea­son why they can­not keep their form go­ing.

“I think if we keep lis­ten­ing to the man­ager we can sus­tain it,” he added. “We’ve been go­ing well and we need to keep it go­ing.

“Ev­ery­one is to­gether. We work hard on and off the pitch and we are get­ting the re­sults.”

PIC­TURE: Me­dia Im­age

VIV-ING IT UP! Viv SolomonOta­bor, left, cel­e­brates scor­ing against Ful­ham with big mate De­marai Gray

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