Experienced defender Michael Morrison was the first player brought in by Gary Rowett when he began his rebuilding process of Birmingham City some 16 months ago.
He was thrown straight into Rowett’s first match in charge at Wolves after arriving from Charlton where he had been deemed surplus to requirements under Bob Peeters.
Morrison made an immediate impact at St Andrews, helping to steady the ship and shore up a defence that had been leaking goals left right and centre.
In his first eight games the team were able to keep four clean sheets and conceded just four goals in that time.
His loan deal was made permanent in January 2015 as the 28-year-old signed a three-and-a-half-year deal with the Midlands club.
He also built up a solid relationship with veteran defender Paul Robinson as Rowett’s men propelled themselves from the relegation zone to a 10th placed finish at the end of the 2014/15 season.
Prior to the start of this current season, Morrison was given the captaincy, taking over from Robinson who would continue to be club captain.
But, fast forward to the present moment and Morrison is leading his side in their push for a play off position, something which they are just two points away from.
The ex-Sheffield Wednesday centre half has been an ever present this season, playing every minute of every Championship match. But does he get the credit he deserves?
I, personally, feel like his form has been somewhat overshadowed by that of his teammates with the likes of Jon Toral, Maikel Kieftenbeld, Jacques Maghoma and even Robinson taking plaudits for their displays.
Luckily Gary Rowett has had the ability to play Morrison in every game this season but, when injury kept him out of the team at a stage last season, the team really struggled and his presence was missed.
In the 11 games he missed between the end of January and March 2015, The Blues were able to win just two games in his absence.
He then returned for the final eight games of the campaign where Rowett’s side finished strongly, winning five of those and drawing one which highlighted Morrison’s value to the team.
A solid backline is something Rowett prides his teams on and Morrison is the most important cog in this current Birmingham rearguard.
His know-how in simple, but effective, defending is a rarity in today’s game but Morrison has showed time and time again throughout the season that he is competent in doing so.
Not only is he comfortable passing out from the back and moving forward into space but he also reads the game expertly, trusts himself in a footrace and puts his body on the line.
It is certainly no coincidence that he has consistently been part of a team who have kept 14 clean sheets this season- the fourth best in the league.
He also adapts very well to having a different partner beside him. For most of the first half of the season, Morrison was paired with American Jonathan Spector before 38-year-old Robinson fought his way back into the side.
Their pairing is as strong as ever at the moment and, despite their ‘off day’ at Blackburn, the two have led from the back as examples and have been tough nuts to crack for opposition attackers.
A recent run of six clean sheets in the nine games only supports the case for a player who Rowett has branded as one of the best centre backs in the league.
I am of the same opinion as Rowett and do believe that Morrison is one of the best in the league. He joined the club with a point to prove and has well and truly repaid the faith put in him by his manager.
It is not only clean sheets that Morrison helps to bring to the team though. He has contributed with three goals and two assists in all competitions this season and will no doubt add to that tally in the remaining fixtures.
He is, in some ways, the unsung hero of this Birmingham side who, many would say, are overachieving with the resources that Rowett has to work with.
It could still prove to a dream end to the season for a club who have been out of England’s top flight since relegation in 2011 and, if they are to reach the promised land of the Premier League, it will be Morrison leading the charge in taking them there.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Ian Johnson.
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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