Cheikh N'Doye can help Birmingham out of sticky spot

Cheikh N'Doye of Birmingham City Stu Forster/Getty Images

Birmingham City have had a few months to forget.

When Harry Redknapp secured Championship safety for the Blues at the tail end of last season, after replacing Gianfranco Zola, there was hope that he could help the fallen heavyweights climb up the table this term.

Failed pursuits for Nigeria international Ogenyi Onazi and Ghana midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu during the summer didn't bode well, but Redknapp did succeed in recruiting Cheikh N'Doye from Angers in something of a coup for City.

However, the Second City side's start to the new season has been disappointing, with N'Doye and a host of other new signings - including Brentford trio Jota, Harlee Dean and Maxime Colin - still settling at the club.

Ahead of this weekend's trip to Derby County - live on Kwesé Sports 1 at 16:00 CAT on Saturday - they sit in the relegation zone, second from bottom, having won just one and lost six of their opening eight fixtures.

Interim coach Lee Carsley is inheriting a side that have lost their last five league games on the bounce, but he'll be quietly confident that he can make the most of the quality at his disposal to pull away from the dropzone.

According to the creators of FIFA 18, N'Doye is the pick of the bunch, with the Senegal midfielder receiving a club-high rating of 78 on the new edition of the game set to be released next week.

N'Doye's score puts him tied with Alfred N'Diaye of Wolves and John Terry, now with Aston Villa, as the Championship's top-rated player, although you could forgive Birmingham fans for not quite seeing why their new signing deserves such acclaim - albeit in a video game!

Against Reading at the end of August, for example, N'Doye was hauled off at half time after failing to link the play, giving the ball away, and appearing to get injured while tackling an opponent.

Last weekend, in the 3-1 home defeat by Preston North End, there was some improvement, as the Senegal international broke up the opposition's forays forward during the first half, and imposed himself aerially.

However, as the contest wore on, he appeared too sluggish - of foot and of mind - to keep up with the action and the visitors ran riot.

N'Doye has been a slow starter throughout his career - he only reached the French top flight in his late 20s, and made his international debut in 2014 - and has the quality to turn things around and prove that he can cut out away from Ligue 1.

Despite his toils in England, some of N'Doye's assets - notably his hulking 6ft3 frame - have been clear to see.

The midfielder is comfortably the most effective header of the ball in the division, winning an astonishing 8.8 aerial battles per match.

There's much more to his game than dominance in the air however. During his time with Angers, the powerhouse demonstrated excellent leadership skills, regularly dominated midfield contests with his strong and intelligent play, and contributed at both ends of the pitch.

Despite his advancing years, N'Doye remains mobile for his size, and was regularly seen tearing through the middle of the park for Angers, particularly in the 2015-16 season - their first in Ligue 1 - when he scored nine goals and contributed four assists.

So far, N'Doye has shown precious few of those qualities in the Championship - to the chagrin of Birmingham fans and surely to the considerable disappointment of Redknapp.

Perhaps under the guidance of Carsley - himself an excellent defensive midfielder - and up against Derby's Tom Huddlestone this weekend, a delightful but sluggish talent himself, N'Doye's form is about to change.

If he can adapt to life in another country and another league - and it remains a big 'if' at this stage - N'Doye has the quality to prove that the team at EA Sports were right to rate him as the Championship's best.