It is not surprising that Blues fans have been fairly quiet on this blog of late considering the traumatic anti-climax of last season’s relegation. Following the euphoria of Carling Cup success last February, Birmingham’s season took a dramatic U-turn. The 2v1 victory against Arsenal, despite leading to their first haul of silverware for 48 years, disguised the severely limited capabilities of a team that regularly fielded such negative tactics (the good old “hoof and hope”). It was less a shock than a formality that after totalling the fewest goals for that Premier League season, that Birmingham were relegated. To rub salt into the wound, the inevitable exodus of ‘choice’ players soon took place, while Alec McLeish quickly followed suit, taking over the reigns at bitter rivals Aston Villa. Most worryingly though, was the arrest of club owner Carson Yeung in Hong Kong on charges of money laundering; his assets were subsequently frozen. With administration a tangible threat, June was probably the gloomiest month in B.C.F.C. history.
In stark contrast to this rather bleak misadventure (and ironically against all expectations), Blues find themselves in a comparatively healthy position in the Championship table. After 19 games (with 3 in hand on all other teams), they lie 14th, only 6 points from the play-off positions.
Managerially: Birmingham should count themselves lucky that they’ve captured the gem that is Chris Hughton. Already a favourite with the fans (especially those among Birmingham Mail circulation), he is known for his integrity and clear talking. He knows that despite the financial restrictions (e.g. no money), that the board expect him to chase for promotion. YET he has embraced the challenge, and refreshingly he gives no excuses after a defeat on match day. The 46 game Championship season is gruelling enough, nevertheless Hughton was buyout that Brum were ‘in it to win it’ in the Europa League, being knocked out with a very respectable 10 points. Hughton’s positive attitude has already done wonders at St. Andrews.
Personnel: At the full time whistle at White Hart Lane, with relegation confirmed, there was a dash to the exit door in Birmingham. Scott Dann, Roger Johnson, Seb Larsson, Craig Gardner, Ben Foster and Cameron Jerome were among those who swiftly moved on; most at heavily cut prices which outraged fans. The lack of loyalty among players did little to instil confidence among the fan base. Nevertheless, once Hughton had been officially unveiled as manager, he set about rebuilding a squad using free transfers and loan deals. Hughton made some shrewd moves, bringing in young Canadian striker Chris Wood as well as goalkeeper Boaz Myhill on loan. Tried and test midfielders such as Wade Elliot and Chris Burke also arrived, while in defence Steve Caldwell and Jonathan Spector were signed up. With the experience of Marlon King arriving up front, Blues now possess a squad with good potential, considering the constraints posed by the financial situation.
Tactically and statistically: In comparison to the ultra-negative tactics that McLeish often employed at St.Andrews, Hughton has tried to instil a much more positive and attacking ethos into Blues’ football. This in itself is a massive step forward, and one which is much more pleasing for the supporters. Compared to the diabolical total of 37 goals last season, Birmingham have already recorded 26 goals in 19 matches so far this year. For once Birmingham are not relying on their midfielders to provide all of the goals, their strikers this season having notched up 18 goals between them this year around as to date. Hot on the tails of the chasing pack, with a number of games in hand and an unbeaten home record to boast, things are looking much brighter at St. Andrews.
Maybe the team isn’t quite ready for promotion this season. Another year to gel and mature would probably do the world of good for Hughton and his men. However, the positives that we’ve seen this year have been outstanding and commendable considering what has gone on. It’ll be interesting to see exactly how well Birmingham end up doing in the season of 2011 /2012.