Luke Turner shares his thoughts on the season after yesterday’s defeat all but put the play-offs out of reach…
Up until around the end of January, there were high hopes for this season and Birmingham City were right in the mix for a play-off place. Now, though, we have fallen away and can only look back at what could`ve been. A run of just two wins from our last 11 games where we have scored just six goals has seen us come to the reality that it just wasn`t to be. Our top six hopes had been clinging on by a thread for too long without us really managing to nail down a dominant spot. It comes down to not scoring enough goals, conceding silly ones and not showing enough quality.
For me, I am quite disappointed and believe that we could have been good enough to keep up with the likes of Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and co. There is no doubting that those teams up there are there because they have spent money on quality players and have squads with individual players who can win games on their own.
But, we have shown that we can compete against them. Taking four points off Derby, a point at Burnley and Middlesbrough and a home win against Hull mustn`t go unnoticed. Our downfall has been against the lesser teams of the division and we can`t seem to find a way to breach those defences in a way that we have done against other teams. We haven`t scored a single goal against Rotherham, Blackburn or Wolves and have been unable to defeat the likes of Nottingham Forest and Charlton.
It could be argued that the changing point in the season came when Sheffield Wednesday came from a goal down to beat us with two goals in a matter of minutes at the start of February. From that point, we haven`t shown enough quality that is required to win you games. We couldn`t seem to take advantage of those chances where just a single goal would`ve been enough to win us the game. It wasn`t through a lack of effort or desire, it has simply come down to the fact that no one has stepped up for us in the big moments in crucial games.
Yesterday`s defeat against Brighton was perhaps the first time all season we have looked a defeated team with no creativity, no ideas and if I`m honest, some players didn`t show enough effort or commitment. Gary Rowett has done an excellent job, propelling us from a side doomed for another relegation battle to a comfortable top half team with the play offs in our sights.
But, singling out last night`s game, I have to question some of his tactics. Clayton Donaldson clearly isn`t a left midfielder and he looked lost from the second the game kicked off. To his credit, he tried to make it work but it was clear that it just wasn`t happening. It took until the 71st minute before he was moved from that position and put back up front. That came as a result of Kyle Lafferty coming off, being replaced by David Davis. 2-1 down at home, looking for an equaliser and possibly a winner, is he really the answer? On the bench we had David Cotterill, Will Buckley, Diego Fabbrini and James Vaughan. But, the first substitution made was to bring a defensive midfielder on. I don`t usually criticise Rowett as I am a big fan of his and he has brought positivity back to our football club but he got a couple of things wrong last night.
We can`t allow for this season, which at one point was very promising, to turn into one which could leave us in mid table where little progress on last season would`ve been made.
I don`t really agree with comments I have seen saying the team are tired after a long season. I know we have a small squad, but that was the intention Rowett had and a lot of that team yesterday have just had two weeks off to recharge! The final 11 games were supposed to be the time for just one last push and the signing of Lafferty gave us hope that it may happen. However, losing two consecutive games has seen us fall further away and end those play-off ambitions in such a short period of time. It is made even more difficult when the key players in our team are looking leggy and not playing with the same quality they had done in so many games earlier in the season.
A lot of people will see this as an overreaction, but our recent form has continued to go downhill and it hasn`t been good enough, Rowett will admit that. We currently have seven points less (56) than we had in the whole of last season. With seven games remaining and going on current form, we will only just surpass that point`s tally of 63 we achieved last campaign. Is that a good enough improvement, given that Rowett has had two more transfer windows to work in and also had a bit of money to spend on Fabbrini and loanees? Some would say we have overachieved, others would say that the team could`ve done much better. It seems we have seen progression early on but, more recently, results haven`t been good enough and the team have dipped significantly.
Losing Demarai Gray in January hit us very hard and people underestimated the influence he had on games in that first half of the season. Either way, it has been a season (so far) with some great moments such as Fulham and Derby away. Then there have been extremely disappointing times where we have failed to win in games when we really should`ve done. Blues wouldn`t be Blues if we didn`t make things difficult for ourselves so cue the seven match winning streak we now go on to sneak a play-off spot. Could you imagine?
For now though, let`s just try and win as many games as possible from now until the end of the season and go into the next with confidence and belief that we can push on. Rowett will have completed practically two seasons in charge by the end of this current one and they have both been solid and got us back where we want to be, fighting nearer the top end of the table.
Next season has to be the one where we push on further, add to the squad players who Rowett will know he needs for us to win those games which we failed in this season. No doubt there will be more talk about Rowett`s future but for the future of the club and his managerial career, Birmingham City is where he needs to be. It could turn into an exciting campaign with the likes of Villa, Burton and Walsall all veering towards Championship football so we must go again.
My one last thought, though, it that I am so glad we are competing again at the top end rather than the bottom of the table after the near disaster of 2013/14. This season is tailing off after it looked for so long like something could be made of it. That is my one regret. I believed that the players had it in them to keep going right until the end, I guess I was wrong. It`s frustrating as we fought so hard to get ourselves into an excellent position. Yes, it was a long shot but this is turning out to be a season of what could have been.