Date: 9th May 2017 at 7:13pm
Written by:

When steady progression is the aim, you can always count on Birmingham City to shoot themselves in the foot.

A season that started with great optimism ended with excruciating trepidation. From the opening game – a goalless draw with Cardiff City at St. Andrews – to the final game at Bristol City, it has been a rollercoaster of epic proportions.

Three managers of contrasting style have overseen opposing fortunes in the B9 dugout.

First, Gary Rowett. Holding on to him in the summer was addressed as a top priority. Rowett looked as if he was on the verge of turning Blues into play-off contenders before his relationship with the club’s hierachy soured.

With the club just three point off second spot, Rowett was disposed of in ruthless fashion. His exit became the talking point of the national media. A young English manager thrown into the managerial scrapheap by trigger happy foreign owners.

Some of the performances under Rowett were horrible to watch. Even some of the victories were insipid. The style of football was repelling. Yet under his stewardship, Blues were virtually guaranteed a top half finish in the worse case scenario – an end of season lottery in the best.

Many pointed to the squad at his disposal. Workmanlike and dogged but acutely lacking in quality. Others pointed out that Rowett left most of his more technically gifted players on the bench.

Rowett’s departure unusually dominated newspaper column inches. But there was more to his sacking than merely a couple of bad defeats – and there were some humdingers. Birmingham City were apathetic against Barnsley (a 3-0 loss at home) and abhorrent at Newcastle (a 4-0 defeat) in December. Despite a midweek home success against Ipswich, the axe fell on the 43-year-old.

While his departure left many fans flummoxed, the club wasted no time in hiring his successor. Enter, Gianfranco Zola.

The Italian is a marquee household name in football yet his managerial record didn’t offer much to whet the appetite. With Rowett seemingly overachieving with the squad at his disposal, Zola arrived with the remit of playing expansive, attacking football.

During Zola’s early days, the football was almost instantly better. Results had deteriorated though. Blues stumbled towards the January transfer window just below mid-table.

Zola was given the resources to improve his team. The likes of Kerim Frei, Cheick Keita and Craig Gardner were drafted in as Zola spent more than the previous three managers combined.

It was February before the 50-year-old tasted his first win – a 1-0 home win against ten man Fulham – at the eleventh attempt. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was Blues turning the corner to brighter times. Three straight defeats soon put that buoyancy to bed.

Zola’s second victory came in a West Midlands derby at Wolves. But as was the pattern with his reign, the team took one step forward then five back.

With Blues rapidly heading towards a relegation battle, Zola pressed the panic button. After trying to coach his troops to play open, attacking, football, the message was reversed and the team were being set-up in a defensive, counter attacking shape.

Following the success at Molineux, Blues went nine games without a win. A 1-0 defeat to struggling Wigan at St. Andrews should have been the final straw. The talk was of Zola being dismissed if Blues lost at Cardiff four days later. It was looking to be heading down that path until Lukas Jutkiewicz equalised at the death to rescue a point.

Zola plodded on and the fans, on the whole, stayed with him. Until Easter weekend.

A weekend which was meant to clinch survival went only to drag Blues deeper into the relegation mix. Fixtures against already relegated Rotherham United and Burton Albion marked the end. Zola had obviously lost the dressing room and, more fatally, he had lost the punters on the terraces.

Patience had completely evaporated after a 2-0 loss at home to Burton on Easter Monday and Zola resigned immediately after the game.

In an honest self appraisal of his tenure, Zola admitted that he had tried his damnest but had lost faith in his own ability to turn the fortunes around.

A likeable, dignified, man. Broken.

Less thanĀ  24 hours after Zola’s resignation, Harry Redknapp had been installed as the interim replacement.

With three games remaining, Blues sat three points above the dreaded line going into a second city derby at Villa Park. Redknapp’s brief was plain and simple – survival.

Despite defeat in Witton, Blues had showed signs that their old selves could be resuscitated. And that much was evident in the final home game against Huddersfield Town. After being reduced to ten men, a robust defensive performance helped Blues to a 2-0 win and a vital three points.

By the time Redknapp took his side to Ashton Gate for a final day clash with Bristol City, the remit was to get the win that would ensure safety. Nothing less would do. The mission was completed after Che Adams scored the only goal of a tight, nervy encounter. And with the outcome of results elsewhere, conceding an equaliser would have condemned Blues to the third tier.

Redknapp was the saviour of an almost disastrous campaign. A campaign which started promisingly, headed south before ending with 90 minutes of blissful relief.

Panos Pavlakis’ admittance that the club had ‘dodged a bullet’ couldn’t have been more accurate. From challenging for a place in the Premier League, Blues almost dropped into League One. Some of the decision making upstairs was ghastly, there was little or no leadership.

Blues did indeed dodge a bullet. Let’s hope they live and learn.

Click for the forum

Comments are closed.