Date: 21st January 2018 at 8:08pm
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When Steve Cotterill took the reigns at Birmingham City back in October, many fans were split over his appointment. 18 games down the line, that stance remains the same.

Undoubtedly, Cotterill inherited a mess. The squad was imbalanced, confidence was low and the club was on a rapid downward spiral. But the biggest hurdle for the manager to overcome was the division in the dressing room.

After Harry Redknapp’s deadline day spending spree, the chasm in wages between the new players and the existing players was huge.

From the off, Cotterill set about healing the rifts. Fast forward to the present day, the cracks seem smaller. Blues may still be in the bottom three but the gap is closing and performances have improved.

Since Cotterill took the hot seat, Blues’ performances have ranged from outstanding to appalling. Wins against Cardiff, Leeds and Reading showed the better side of the team whereas losses to Norwich, Fulham, QPR and Barnsley showed the ugly side.

Yet it’s evident that the team is improving.

Cotterill has made questionable decisions. His reliance on Sam Gallagher as a wide player was used as a stick to beat him with and the lack of game time for record signing Jota remains a talking point. But it’s clear the players are playing for him.

At the time of writing, Blues have lost only once in their last five matches which has increased the belief that the team can survive once again.

Cotterill has heavily backed the grafters to conjure up points in a rigid and disciplined shape similar to Gary Rowett’s successful system. The likes of Jacques Maghoma, Maikel Kieftenbeld, David Davis and Jonathan Grounds have all fought off competition from arguably more technically gifted colleagues to play pivotal roles in Cotterill’s set-up.

Of course, this could all begin to go south again and there’s no disputing the importance of the next league game – a home clash with fellow strugglers Sunderland.

Cotterill is managing under difficult circumstances. The support from above is virtually non existent and he hasn’t had the luxury of signing a single player yet as the club battle against FFP regulations.

Yet he seems to be getting a tune out of the players at his disposal. Isaac Vassell’s long term injury is a massive loss and Che Adams’ persistent trips to the medical room have been a burden – another headache for the boss. But Sam Gallagher has stepped up with five goals in his last seven appearances (Cotterill seems to accept that he is very much a centre forward at last) and minimised the impact of the injuries.

Cotterill is very animated on the touchline and shows his passion. He is a very hands on manager and, with the help of his Assistant Lee Carsley, the players don’t get a moments peace.

I have no great affection for Cotterill but I am confident of his ability to keep Blues in the Championship. Many of his critics will claim that the good performances are sheer coincidence but I’ll write that off as nonsense.

The players look fitter, sharper, more organised and carry more of an attacking threat. The biggest improvement, though, has been in effort levels. Keep all those attributes in the bag and Blues will be halfway there.

The biggest test of his reign will be the Sunderland game. Blues have performed well against teams in the higher echelons of the league but let’s see if they can replicate it in a match they will be favourites to win in front of an expectant crowd.

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