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
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
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
Sessegnon or Bale? Past or future? Spurs must make right move this summer
Sevilla triumph will have Everton fans regretting Steven N’Zonzi failure
Amadou Haidara released by Leeds United, bringing an end to bizarre transfer chapter
Ryan Sessegnon should look at Tottenham pair and make switch
Tottenham Hotspur3 weeks ago
Tottenham Hotspur must push Toby Alderweireld toward Barcelona
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Jurgen Klopp’s brave January decision is playing off thanks to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Brentford4 weeks ago
Romaine Sawyers – Blossoming in the Championship with play-off contenders Brentford
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Mohamed Salah: Is Liverpool’s Egyptian star the best player in the world right now?
English Premier League2 weeks ago
Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle United: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain growing into role under Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold finds himself at the centre of Jurgen Klopp’s plans
Chelsea2 days ago
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
Barcelona4 weeks ago
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge