For year upon year, playing as second best in their own back yard, Birmingham City could finally be seeing the a change in fortunes. Fans of The Blues have been able to put to bed the fears of another relegation; this time to League One, behind them after surviving on the final day of the 2013/14 season in dramatic style, whilst finding successfully finding their feet again off the field. With Villa’s almost inevitable relegation, could a push for promotion establish them as the biggest club in Birmingham?
I spoke to Birmingham’s in-crowd-videographer, David Brown (otherwise known as ‘Davo’ with the Birmingham faithful), to get his opinion on the two teams, and if the fans at St Andrews really do have a lot to shout about. With the club just outside the play-off places, some have labelled Birmingham as the dark horses for promotion, but Davo believes the current squad would likely fail to survive without some adjustments, but there is no reason why relegation should be a foregone conclusion.
“Players like Paul Caddis and 38-year-old Paul Robinson would stand no chance of competing in the Premier League , but with a bit of strengthening, who knows? A great manager and great team spirit can make a difference, and I believe we have both of those things. Stranger things have happened.”
The arrival of Gary Rowett has proven to a masterstroke, as he was already a fan-favourite after previously playing for the clubfor two years. Not only that, but he is a bit of a local lad, growing up only 13 miles away from the city in Bromsgrove, which many would agree has helped aid his team exceed all expectations placed on their shoulders.
“From the moment he came in it had a huge impact. He was the fan-favourite for the job so the supporters had a lot of goodwill towards him. He came in knowing the club, its history and what makes the fans tick. He knew from his playing days that Blues fans don’t expect the team to be the most technically gifted, but want to see the players put in a shift. Before the season began, most fans would have been very content with finishing 12th. Finishing outside of the top eight would be a bit of a disappointment now though, and with the play-offs in touching distance why not go for it?”
The mood in the stands has clear improved, and the fans backing is there for all to see. At St Andrews, the home attendances are slowly rising. Their fixture last season attracted 14,085 fans, yet this season, the attendance surpassed the 20,000 mark! The feel-good factor is returning, particularly away from home.
“Away games have been a party atmosphere for months – the highlights being the 5-2 win at Fulham and the 3-0 win at Derby that I am certain our brilliant away support played a part in. Our away allocations are selling like hot cakes!”
Blues fans can also rejoice these days, knowing fierce rivals Aston Villa may soon have very little to shout about when it comes to both their long-standing enemies and current league status. Villa are; barring a miracle, doomed for relegation from the Premier League for the first time since its formation in 1992. New boss Remi Garde has failed to lift any spirits at the club after their miserable start of the season under Tim Sherwood. They don’t look like a team, pure and simple, and it has come to no surprise seeing fans abandoning games early, if they even bothered turning up at all.
Despite this, put the two sides together, and both will begin find something to chirp about. A Capital One Cup tie this season was seen as the perfect opportunity by Birmingham fans to stamp some authority over Villa, which they failed to take. The bragging right stayed with Villa on a head-to-head basis, with a Rudy Gestede goal being the difference. Despite their league troubles, Villa fans were in ecstasy, highlighting just how important the game is to even the ‘bigger side.
“There are some massively intense rivalries up and down the country and this is up there with the best of them, ranking just slightly below West Ham v Millwall for me. It is one of the few league matches that by police order must take place before 3PM and in front of below-capacity attendances – something that cannot be said for the Manchester or North London derbies. Unlike those games, this one has a strictly local feel – let’s face it, you won’t find many Blues fans outside of Birmingham, and it is a game for the pride of the city, pure and simple. And even though Villa have a richer history, we have a genuine claim to being the real team of Birmingham – something that will always irritate their fans – so both sides always come into it with a score to settle.”
However, should both teams be in the same division next year, the argument of being a bigger team may become more in favour of the ‘Blues’. Even the most biased Birmingham fan would have to concede that historically, Villa are by far and away the bigger club! Nevertheless, if you look back over the last 10 years, can Birmingham argue that Rowett is helping revolutionise a change in times?
“As Villa fans are quick to note, they have a lot of history. They won a European Cup a few decades ago, won the FA Cup several times, have been in the Premier League every year since its inception, and finished sixth a few times under Martin O’Neill. As a result, they have always attracted fans from far-flung parts of the region. They are massive in Tamworth and rural Staffordshire.
“We have our own history too, though. We are one of the ten oldest clubs in English football, were the first English side to play Barcelona, and used to get attendances of 60,000. We carry the city’s name, won the cup in 2011 and had a memorable Europa League campaign in which we beat Bruges in Bruges. We haven’t finished above Villa since 2003. They are the bigger team historically, and they have been in a higher division and attracting higher attendances for the last five seasons whilst enjoying our financial demise and our brush with relegation to League One. But as far as the last decade goes, if we’re being technical, they can’t equal our record of silverware and European success.”
Promotion would be huge for Birmingham in their quest for city dominance, whether right now that’s a step just out of reach is yet to be seen. Villa will likely be one of the bookies favourites next season, despite this horrific campaign, and a successful year would probably put them back on top between the two, especially if Birmingham are still in the Championship. This of course is assuming that relegation does not spark a mass exodus of any remaining talent still to be found at Villa Park. However, the Birmingham fans must look ahead. Relegation in 2011 to the Championship was a massive blow, considering their success in the League Cup that same year. They need to strike a balance which they have so far not been able to establish.
The ultimate goal is promotion, and some might argue they should forget the rivalry with Villa for now, so everyone involved at the club can keep their focus. For me however, their hatred towards the Villa is what will motivate them. They won’t be a big club in the Premier League, not for a long while anyway, should they get promoted, and Villa will be; even in the Championship, a big club in English football. Still though, Birmingham will have the ultimate bragging rights.
After so many years finishing below Villa in the table, imagine the joy and pride to be a whole league above! They may be underdogs, but even underdogs finish on top. As the saying in Birmingham goes; ‘Keep right on till the end’.
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Why Garry Monk and Birmingham City are crossing paths at the perfect time
The former Swansea manager joins Birmingham in what will be his fourth managerial role.
Birmingham City have chosen to appoint Garry Monk as their third manager of the season after dismissing Steve Cotterill over the weekend. It represents an interesting marriage between a club and manager who have equally struggled over the last 12 months. Both will be hopeful that their luck can change and their reputations can be repaired by one another.
For Monk, he remains at the early stages of his managerial career at the age of 38, but he has failed in each of his last two jobs. Last season, he was given plaudits for the work that he did with Leeds United. Although he did get the sleeping giants to challenge at the top of the Championship, they slipped out of the play-offs during the final months of the campaign. Given they were mainstays of the top-six until then, he will view it as a failure.
During the same season, Birmingham were one of the teams competing with Leeds. That was until they made the odd decision to sack Gary Rowett in December when the team were in 7th position. They finished the campaign fighting relegation after a disastrous spell under Gianfranco Zola.
Despite avoiding the drop by bringing in Harry Redknapp for the final three matches, the decision to dismiss Rowett remains an incredible misjudgment from the board. He had done a great job at the club and took them from relegation candidates to play-off hopefuls without a huge transfer spend. It was a gradual development and it was destroyed by the short-sightedness of the owners, who thought a change would provide the momentum needed to reach the Premier League.
The club have still not recovered from the now-Derby County manager leaving the club. Redknapp remained in charge for the beginning of this season and was given a huge budget to transform the club into promotion candidates. According to Transfermarkt.co.uk, he spent just under £16 million. In addition to the transfer fees, a lot of the players coming in would have been given big wages. David Stockdale arrived from newly-promoted Brighton on a free transfer and his reason for staying in the Championship was likely a financial one.
By spending the money that they did, it put the pressure on Redknapp to deliver a promotion challenge and he failed to deliver. He lasted until only September with Blues languishing in the relegation zone. The club were now facing another battle against the drop and Steve Cotterill was the next man in the hot-seat. It was an underwhelming appointment that suggested that lacked ambition. The board likely hoped he would lead them to safety, but as the side remain in the bottom three, it became inevitable that his contract would be terminated.
Cotterill only won six league matches out of 24 in charge and didn’t manage to get the best out of the squad available. Given the talent that have at the club, they should be well clear of relegation. It would be unfair to put all the blame on the two managers that have been in charge this season, but neither showed enough to suggest they could turn it around.
Monk is a much more ambitious appointment and there are many similarities between him and Gary Rowett, the last manager to achieve relative success with Birmingham. However, his stock was damaged further this season as he was sacked by Middlesbrough after only months in charge. They started the season as the favourites to win the league and he left the club in 9th position after 23 matches.
It is difficult to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt as a relegated club and Monk discovered that during his short spell on Teesside. There was a lot of talent at the club, but it is a gradual process to increase confidence levels and he wasn’t given that time. His successor, Tony Pulis, has also struggled and results have only picked up very recently.
Is this a good appointment for Birmingham?
This is Birmingham’s fifth manager in 15 months and that is a stat that suggests a lot of mistakes have been made. As mentioned above, Monk is similar to Rowett in the sense that both are considered bright, young British managers. The main difference is that he has suffered a lot more setbacks than the man now in charge at Derby County.
At the age of 38, Monk is taking charge of his fourth club and he needs sustained success with a club to consolidate his position as a promising coach. He has had encouraging periods with both Swansea and Leeds, but his failure with Middlesbrough is a concern. They underperformed under his leadership and the fact that he is taking over a team in the relegation zone shows that his stock has plummeted.
However, the squad at Birmingham have been underperforming and that makes it an attractive job for Monk. Given the lack of quality at the bottom of the Championship, he should be able to steer the Blues to safety and then he would have a platform to build on.
The Birmingham supporters have reacted well to the appointment and that should give the boost to the club at a crucial stage of the season. They are only two points from safety with 11 matches to play. The timing gives Monk time to get the club out of the bottom three and that starts with the visit of former club Middlesbrough.
It is a tough first game and one that Monk will be desperate to win given his sacking earlier this season. They then have a tricky trip to promotion hopefuls Cardiff City. The next four matches will be crucial as they have matches against Hull City, Ipswich Town, Bolton Wanderers and Burton Albion.
The next six games will decide whether Birmingham can move clear of relegation or if they are to face a nervy finish to the season like they had last season. The appointment of Monk comes at a good time and it will be an interesting period for both parties. They have each had failures and now come together at the perfect time. It will be hoped that they can repair their reputations together.
Three managers that Birmingham City should target to replace Harry Redknapp
Birmingham City are on the lookout for a new manager after deciding to sack Harry Redknapp after the team’s loss to Preston North End. Many supporters believe that the decision was a premature one, but the side had taken only four points from eight matches. The Blues are currently in the bottom three and facing a difficult task to make up the ground to the play-off places.
They have struggled since the sacking of Gary Rowett and two managers have failed since then. Gianfranco Zola was a complete disaster after taking the job. Redknapp did well to keep them up last season, but he wasn’t the right man long-term. It is crucial that they now find a good fit as they can’t afford any more upheaval. There are a number of managers in the running, with Steve McClaren, Gus Poyet and Nigel Adkins all mentioned in the media. Lee Carsley is the favourite and has been placed in temporary charge.
There are good managers that could take Birmingham forward. Here are three managers that they should target:
The former Middlesbrough manager is an eye-catching name in the betting and he would be an ambitious appointment by the club. He may have failed in the Premier League, but he showed himself to be an effective manager in the second tier. The Spaniard managed to get Boro back to the top-flight and played some attractive football in the process. Although he switched back to a more defensive set-up in the Premier League, he can coach a team to play an exciting style.
Birmingham did bring in some very talented players during the transfer window and they have the potential to make significant progress up the table with the right coach. Karanka could be the perfect fit. He will make them tough to beat to begin with and provide a foundation for the flair players to do their thing. Last season wasn’t one to be remembered, but he will have learnt from it and is a name that would get the fans on board.
This will be filed under unlikely, but the former Newcastle United and Crystal Palace manager will be keen to return to the game after nearly a year out of a job. There are a lot of negative opinions about Pardew, but he has made an impact at most of the clubs he has managed. He guided the Magpies to fifth in the Premier League and got to the FA Cup final with Palace.
It would require him to drop down from the Premier League and return to the second tier. This won’t be what he would want in an ideal world, but he needs to rebuild his reputation and this could be the perfect opportunity to do that. Birmingham have a decent squad and money to spend in future windows. If he wanted a project that had a good chance of being successful, this could be a good fit for him.
The current Burton Albion manager hasn’t been mentioned, but if Birmingham want a manager that is tailor-made for the Championship, Nigel Clough would be a good appointment. He has performed miracles at the Pirelli Stadium and knows how to get results in this division. Birmingham need to appoint a good manager, rather than a big name and the 51-year-old should be under consideration.
Clough may not be interested in a move to Birmingham as he is settled at Burton, but it would be difficult to turn down the greater chance of success. He would get respect based on his recent achievements in the Championship, which neither of the previous two managers had. It seems like players enjoy working under Clough and he would be a worthy candidate for the post.
How Twitter reacted to Birmingham City signing Jota from Brentford
Birmingham City have completed one of the deals of the day in the Championship as they have signed Jota from Brentford. The official site confirms that they have broken their club-record fee to bring him to the Midlands on a four-year deal. The Spaniard had been linked to Premier League this summer, while the Bees had rejected offers from Middlesbrough and Hull City. It is seen as a huge coup for the Blues to land him.
Harry Redknapp was delighted with the transfer and the following quotes were reported by the Evening Standard:
“There will not be many better players in the Championship than him, that is for sure. He has got great ability. We are very pleased to have got that one done.”
The Blues manager has always pulled out big deadline day deals throughout his career, but this could be one of his finest. He isn’t wrong when he says that the Spaniard is one of the best players in the division and he will provide the spark that their attack has been lacking during the opening weeks of the season.
Last season, he was excellent during the second half of the season, contributing 12 goals and five assists. Brentford had one of the better attacks after his return and Birmingham will be hoping that he can have a similar impact on their front-line.
Jota is an intelligent player, who takes up good positions in the final third and is capable of producing end product on a consistent basis. It is rare to have a player like him in the Championship and the Blues will have to be seen as one of the favourites for promotion now.
Here is how Twitter reacted to the news:
— Birmingham City FC (@BCFC) August 31, 2017
Going to Birmingham is such a sideways move for Jota. Really odd.
— harryfre (@HarryFremantle) August 31, 2017
— BrummieJoe (@BrummieJoeHD) August 30, 2017
— H. (@KingKieft) August 31, 2017
Jota's 2016-17 record:
— Goodbrand Stats (@StatsChristian) August 31, 2017
Birmingham fans were pleased with the news:
Never thought we would sign a player like him only a couple of weeks ago Prem clubs were after him #JOTA .KRO
— BigGray. (@GrahamRich17) August 31, 2017
Jota, incredible signing, one of the best in this League #bcfc
— Olly Howarth (@BCFC_Olly_KRO) August 31, 2017
— Conner (@ConnerBcfc02) August 31, 2017
Brentford fans were disappointed, but couldn’t see why he wanted to move to Birmingham:
Sold Dean, Jota, Onariase and selling Colin all within 48 hours of the window shutting. Well done #Brentford you've outdone yourselves???
— ?arry? (@HHman94) August 31, 2017
Jota taking backwards steps going to Birmingham. Much like everytime he got the ball on the wing this season #brentford
— Rob D (@bagmanbobby) August 31, 2017
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