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Who is Birmingham’s Alex Jones, Port Vale’s on-loan hotshot?

Martyn Cooke

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Port Vale have undoubtedly been the surprise package in League One so far this season with their victory on Sunday afternoon against MK Dons lifting them up to fourth place in the table.

This summer saw a complete overhaul of the club with the appointment of little known Portuguese manager Bruno Ribiero and the addition of fourteen new signings during the transfer window. This included a host of foreign imports from across Europe, a handful of experienced British players, and a smattering of untried, untested young loanees.

Very few people outside Burslem were expecting anything substantial from The Valiant’s this year, indeed many supporters themselves feared the worst following their club’s unique turnover of personnel during the close season, and yet Ribiero has his side competing for promotion having made an extremely promising start to the campaign.

Many of the fourteen new players that walked into Vale Park during the summer have settled quickly and hit the ground running, none more so than 22-year-old forward Alex Jones.

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Jones, from Solihull, came through the ranks of the West Brom Albion academy before signing a two-year deal with Birmingham City in 2015 following a successful trial. However, his playing opportunities for The Championship side have been limited and on August 12th he joined Port Vale on a five-month loan.

His signing has been an inspired piece of business by Riberio and the forward marked his full debut by scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Scunthorpe United. Jones has since gone on to find the net five more times this season and currently sits in second position in the League One goal scoring table despite playing over 300 minutes less than many of his peers.

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The 22 year old, who has played much of the season as a wide player in a front three but who is also effective in a central role, is enjoying his time at Vale Park and told the Staffordshire Sentinel:

“I am loving every minute of it. I can’t thank everyone enough for the opportunity I have been given. The lads are great and the gaffer is great. I am loving my time here. I am here on loan so I want to give 110% every game and do what I can to help the team climb the table.”

The Valiant’s will be keen to keep hold of their leading goal scorer and retaining the services of the 22-year-old beyond January will be key if Vale are to maintain their promotion push. However, Jones appears to have taken his rise to prominence in his stride.

“I am just taking every game as it comes. All that sort of stuff will get sorted out behind closed doors but I am loving my time here and long may it continue.”

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Birmingham City

Garry Monk should target Kenji Gorre reunion at Birmingham City

The Dutchman has been in fine form for Swansea’s under-23s this season.

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Swansea City have struggled this season, but their under-23s have been in great form. The South Wales youngsters are into the semi-finals of the Premier League 2 Cup and challenging for the PL Division 1 title.

One of the key reasons for that success is Dutch winger Kenji Gorre. The former Manchester United youngster has been in fine form for the Swans this season – scoring 11 goals from 22 appearances and also pitching in with four assists.

However, his contract in South Wales expires in the summer and plenty of teams will be looking at making his services permanent in the summer.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Surely Birmingham City should be one of those teams. The Championship side are currently battling against relegation from the second-tier, with Garry Monk as their manager.

The former Swansea captain and manager will know Gorre well. The Dutch talent has played just one senior game for the Swansea first-team and it was Monk who gave him that opportunity.

Birmingham could be the perfect move for the 23-year-old, who now needs to be playing regular first-team football.

Monk has demonstrated in the past a preference for signing former players. For example, at Leeds, he signed Kyle Bartley, Matt Grimes and Pablo Hernandez – all former players of his at Swansea City.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Based on his form with the under-23s he could certainly be an important member of the squad at St Andrew’s should Birmingham decide to make a move for his services.

Of course, there is the threat that relegation looms. But, given Gorre’s situation, heading to League One with the Blues would also be preferable to most other situations that could be presented to him this summer. Add in the extra bonus of playing under his former boss Monk and Gorre would surely jump at the chance of a Birmingham switch. He could be the bargain buy that Birmingham need to help them back to the Championship or get them moving up the table.

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Birmingham fans have plenty of reason for optimism under Garry Monk

The Blues have won their last three matches under Garry Monk and look set for safety.

Greg Whitaker

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Birmingham
Photo: Getty Images

A few months is a very long time in football.

At the beginning of February, Birmingham City were rooted in the Championship’s bottom three and, along with fellow strugglers Sunderland, appeared certainties for relegation.

However, as has become almost tradition at St Andrew’s in recent years, a late change of manager looks to have set in motion yet another miraculous great escape.

But the question is, can Garry Monk buck the trend set by Messrs Redknapp and Clark and prove a successful long-term appointment, rather than the usual firefighting magician?

As Bluenoses will tell you, the early signs are looking very good.

If wins against Ipswich and Hull City last month kick-started Monk’s tenure at St Andrew’s and bolstered the fans’ belief that Championship survival was possible, Tuesday evening’s 1-0 victory away at relegation rivals Bolton must have had the 5,000 strong travelling support brimming with optimism for future.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

While the win was scrappy, with Monk’s side holding on for a large portion of the second half following Che Adams’ 67th-minute red card, the nature of Birmingham’s last three performances are night and day from the brief and ill-fated Cotterill and Redknapp eras.

Ironically perhaps, comparisons have already been made between Monk’s immediate impact and that of former Blues manager Gary Rowett.

The current Derby boss had been far and away Birmingham City’s most promising young manager of recent years when he was controversially sacked and replaced by Gianfranco Zola, with the team just outside the playoffs, in 2016.

Owners who swear to have learnt from this mistake can go some way to repairing their reputation by backing their new man in the transfer window this summer, should Birmingham stay up.

While the Blues’ current squad, on paper at least, looks a decent one at this level – one that certainly shouldn’t be struggling at the wrong end of the division – Monk will need to bolster his squad should a promotion charge be launched next season.

However, perhaps that’s looking just a bit too far in the future for now.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Garry Monk, once again aided by his trusted backroom support of James Beattie and Pep Clotet, will be squarely focused on finishing the job and securing another year of second-tier football before thoughts can be turned to next season.

With the likes of David Stockdale, Che Adams and Jota, arguably Birmingham’s most important trio, seemingly given a new lease of life under Monk, Championship survival could be all but confirmed over the next fortnight, should Birmingham’s unbeaten run continue.

Fans will tell you, then and only then can they turn their attention to next season. But with new found confidence and hope visible oozing from the club at the minute, this seems hard to believe.

The former Swansea and Leeds boss is the shot in the arm a club like Birmingham so desperately needed. Monk represents a breath of fresh air, cleansing a club that has recently stagnated under the rule of the mediocre usual suspects, fresh off the cliche managerial roundabout.

Birmingham supporters were robbed of their optimism when fans’ favourite Gary Rowett was sacked 18 months ago. Now, with Monk at the helm, they have every reason to be optimistic once again.

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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.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

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.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

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.

during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Leeds United at Craven Cottage on March 7, 2017 in London, England.

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.

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