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.
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 team-mate 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.
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 Solomon-Otabor 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.”