Less than two years ago, Birmingham City were staring down the barrel of League One football as they travelled to Bolton on the final day of the season. They knew that a defeat would confirm their relegation and when they trailed 2-0 it looked all but certain. However, a Nikola Zigic goal and a 93rd minute equaliser from Paul Caddis coupled with Doncaster Rovers losing at Leicester secured the Blues’ safety on goal difference.
Now, they have a different manager with fresh ideas and a team, still made up of mainly free transfers and loans, that have pushed the club to within touching distance of the play-off places.
The day of ‘the great escape’ under Lee Clark in May 2014 now seems a long way off from where the club now find them self under the guidance of former player Gary Rowett.
Ex-Burton manager Rowett returned to Birmingham in October 2014 along with his trusty coaching staff Kevin Summerfield, Mark Sale and Kevin Poole all of whom have played for the club at some point in their playing careers.
They took over the reigns with the club having won just one home game in over a year as well as them sitting in 23rd position, looking destined for another relegation scrap.
But Rowett worked his magic, starting by strengthening the defence following a horrendous 8-0 home defeat to Bournemouth with the signing of, now team captain, Michael Morrison.
The team went on to lose just twice in Rowett’s first 15 games as they climbed up the league wiping out any threat of relegation in a few months dubbed as ‘The Rowett Revolution’.
The good form continued and the club finished in an impressive tenth position. Blues fans didn’t think it could get any better as this current season began, but it most certainly has.
Rowett has built a team of players who have a huge desire to work hard for the team, play with confidence and also quality.
This has left them in and around the play-offs for most of the season to date and they are now within touching distance of the top six.
Most people would say that the team are overachieving and, in some ways, they are right to say that.
Rowett is working with a small budget and spent less than £1 million in the summer transfer window. In comparison, Derby spent over £20m and Middlesbrough spent over £10 million. Add to that Burnley who spent a reported £10m on just one player, Andre Gray.
Birmingham made excellent use of the free agent and loan market by bringing in the likes of Jacques Maghoma and Jon Toral who have both impacted significantly on the team with their goals and assists.
Likewise, Rowett has been cautious with the little money he has to spend. He delved into the Eredivisie to sign Dutch midfielder Maikel Kieftenbeld from Groningen for a mere £160,000 and it is turning out to be buy of the season.
A tenacious, hard working midfielder who covers ground, intercepts and contributes in both the attacking and defensive side of the game, Kieftenbeld has become a crucial cog in the Birmingham side.
He is part of the spine of the Birmingham team along with Michael Morrison and Clayton Donaldson who are both hugely influential and are sorely missed when unavailable.
Donaldson’s importance to the team was shown when he was out injured for six weeks and the team only managed one win in six games. Since his return, the Blues have gone on to win four out of the last six.
He might not have scored since the beginning of November but a major plus is that others are chipping in with the goals.
Jon Toral has scored six whilst Maghoma, Paul Caddis and Stephen Gleeson have four to their name and Kieftenbeld and Paul Robinson have three each.
So it is a real team effort down at St Andrews at the moment and the team enjoy playing together.
Talk of the Blues reaching the play offs has somewhat been played down by the players and management staff but there is no reason why they can’t keep plugging away.
They have already played every team at least once and are there or there abouts. And, in the short time of 2016 they have already defeated both Derby and Ipswich 3-0 as well as stretching their impressive run to just one defeat in nine league games.
Birmingham also have a magnificent record on the road this season. Their explosive counter attacking style has already seen them travel to and comfortably defeat MK Dons, Brentford, Leeds, Bolton, Fulham and Derby. They have also picked up invaluable points at Burnley, Middlesbrough and Ipswich.
Form at St Andrews has also returned following a failure to score in four successive home games between late October and early December. The Blues are now on a run of four consecutive wins at home whilst conceding just one goal.
Attendances at St Andrews are also up after they had plummeted following relegation from the Premier League in 2011. Rowett and his team have brought back the feel-good factor and fans are starting to return.
The club also recently received a major boost when Gary Rowett and his staff signed new deals with the club following interest from Fulham and QPR a couple of months back.
As well as that, the financial side of the club is improving. The sale of Demarai Gray to Leicester for £3.75 million has put more money into the bank and Rowett has used it wisely by bringing in former loanee Diego Fabbrini from Watford for £1.5 million.
Things are on the up on the Blue side of Birmingham and there are no clear signs that form will begin to deteriorate any time soon.
The Blues are well in the race for a play off place and have been since the start of the season. They have produced consistent performances on a regular basis and have picked up results since Rowett took over.
Maybe the team aren’t exceeding expectations and they are simply good enough to be challenging at the higher ends of the Championship table.
Only time will tell if they can maintain their excellent run of form and if they can begin to dream of playing Premier League football next season.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Matt Bunn