JUT THE JOB FOR KEEP­ING BLUES UP

Striker en­joys com­mu­nity cham­pion role

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By John Wragg

CHAR­ITY be­gins at home for Lukas Jutkiewicz as he tries to keep Birm­ing­ham City in the Cham­pi­onship yet again. He’s done it twice be­fore. The first time was in­ad­ver­tently when he scored Bolton’s sec­ond goal as they led 2-0 four years ago and put Blues 14 min­utes away from League One.

Birm­ing­ham got the point they needed for safety three min­utes into added time.

Then, a year ago, Jutkiewicz was in the Birm­ing­ham team that got a 1-0 win at Bris­tol City which again saved them from the drop.

This af­ter­noon, Birm­ing­ham are back for yet an­other rel­e­ga­tion day encore, against pro­mo­tion-chas­ing Ful­ham.

The Blues may well stay up, even if they lose, and a draw will be enough to se­cure their sta­tus.

A win would do it in style as they bid to avoid League One foot­ball for the first time in nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury.

Jutkiewicz, signed from Burn­ley for £1m, not only gives a hand on the pitch, he does it off it as well.

At Christ­mas, he rang and texted to find out what was needed for a lo­cal food­bank and went to Tesco and bought it.

Jutkiewicz got to the check­out with ce­re­als, bis­cuits, soups, beans, cof­fee and pasta. He’s been to Queen El­iz­a­beth Hos­pi­tal in Birm­ing­ham on be­half of the club’s char­ity part­ner, Cure Leukaemia, and, when a young fan was up­set and in tears at a game, Jutkiewicz stepped in.

Some­one was us­ing foul lan­guage in the fam­ily stand and 10-year-old Martha Poole and her fam­ily left early.

The club in­ves­ti­gated, moved the odi­ous man, and fixed up for Martha to meet Jutkiewicz, her favourite player, at an­other home game and he gave her his shirt.

In­volved

His and other play­ers’ will­ing­ness to be in­volved with fans is one of the rea­sons man­ager Garry Monk will stay at Birm­ing­ham, re­gard­less of whether they are in the Cham­pi­onship next sea­son.

Monk was re­luc­tant to say he will be stay­ing be­cause he didn’t want to­day’s head­lines to be about him rather than the team.

But he has con­firmed he in­tends to be at Birm­ing­ham for the length of his three-and-a-hal­fyear con­tract.

“If I’ve signed a con­tract be­yond this sea­son, what does that say to you?” asks Monk. “I’ve no in­ten­tion to be any­where other than at this club.

“I don’t want to be the head­line ‘Garry Monk stays’ or ‘Garry Monk is go­ing to be here’. I want the head­lines to be all about Sun­day.”

Birm­ing­ham ex­pect more than 28,000, their big­gest crowd for three years, to see if they can end Ful­ham’s 23-game un­beaten league run.

Jutkiewicz hadn’t played a league game for three months when Monk ar­rived but has played in all his ten games since, scor­ing three times and bring­ing in four points. As gifts go, that’s char­i­ta­ble. “When I came in we had one day to se­lect the team be­fore that first game,” re­calls Monk. “I knew Jutkiewicz as an ex­pe­ri­enced player, an ul­ti­mate pro­fes­sional. I wanted to put that on the pitch straight away.

“From that first game, he has taken it on board and de­liv­ered the per­for­mances we ex­pect from him.

“He has em­braced it. Jutkiewicz has been a per­fect ex­am­ple of try­ing to raise his game, the team’s as well.

“The thing I no­ticed here was that the play­ers are very con­scious of what the club means to the fans and the city.

“Of­ten in foot­ball now, play­ers can be very self-cen­tred and in their own bub­bles. That feel­ing with the fans gets lost along the way.

“Swansea is the best ex­am­ple of that to me be­cause I spent most of my ca­reer there.

“Hav­ing ten years un­der­stand­ing what that meant, out­side of your own bub­ble, I’ve al­ways car­ried that with me.

“These play­ers ac­tu­ally care about it, not just them­selves.

“On Sun­day, we need to make sure we re­tain our sta­tus and then we take it into a new era. We take it to a sit­u­a­tion where we are never in this po­si­tion again.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

BLUE HEAVEN: Lukas Jutkiewicz cel­e­brates scor­ing for Birm­ing­ham. Inset: With food for Birm­ing­ham Cen­tral Food­bank. Be­low: Boss Garry Monk

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