The days of Big Eck- part 1

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November 16, 2012 by Made In Brum

Alex McLeish. To sum him up, the most successful manager in Birmingham City’s history and probably the most despised by many supporters. A sour end to a topsy-turvey relationship between club, fans and a manager. But let’s put some things into perspective.

When Big Eck left his post as Scotland boss to replace the departing Steve Bruce as manager, there were mixed feelings. The ex-Rangers boss had a good pedigree, but his style of football had been questioned. In reply to this, McLeish hinted that he can only play to the strengths of the players at his disposal. He did very well as Scotland boss, they came within touching distance of qualifying for a major tournament.

Upon taking the Blues hot-seat, the club were languishing in the bottom six of the Premier League, and despite beating Tottenham at White Hart Lane 3-2 in his first game in charge (remember that screamer from Seb Larsson) the rest of the season became a struggle and Blues were relegated.

What were the reasons? There was a lot going on behind the scenes, Carson Yeung’s failed attempt to buy the club, but the most frustrating thing of all was the inconsistency of the team. In his first six games at the helm, McLeish and Blues won two (Spurs, Middlesboro’) drew two (Reading, Fulham)and lost two (Newcastle, Bolton). This pretty much summed the season up.

The January transfer window opened and new signings were bedded in. David Murphy signed from Hibs, James McFadden signed from Everton and Mauro Zarate signed on loan from Al-Sadd. After a defeat at Manchester United, Garry O’Connor scored the equaliser that earned Blues a point at Arsenal, before losing to Chelsea 1-0 at St. Andrews and going down 2-0 at Sunderland.

February seemed to offer some sign of hope. Derby County were the visitors to St. Andrews, they were rock bottom of the league and well adrift. But despite Seb Larsson putting Blues ahead, Emmanuel Villa levelled for the Rams a minute from time. Two more draws followed against West Ham and Arsenal in the infamous ‘Eduardo’ match. Although it was a good comeback, Blues were now without a win in eight games.

That corrected with a 4-1 hammering of recently crowned League Cup winners Spurs. But with only one win in their next nine fixtures, Blues were looking likely to be relegated. During this time, the games that sealed the fate in my opinion were the 5-1 defeat at Villa and the 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool, in which Blues surrendered a two goal lead. Fulham swept Blues aside at Craven Cottage to complete their great escape. A 4-1 win againt Blackburn was too little, too late for Alex McLeish and his men. Finishing the season on 35 points (8 wins, 11 draws and 19 losses, conceding 62 goals in the process) championship football beckoned.

The problem was clear- Blues’ top scorers in the league were Mikael Forssell (9) Cameron Jerome (7). Forssell’s season was hampered by injury and Jerome was never the prolific finisher that everyone had hoped. McLeish was sceptical about playing the clearly talented Mauro Zarate. Who knows, he could have been the man to keep us up. On the positive side, the average home attendance that season was 26,000, evidence that the fans had stuck by the team.

Lee Carsley, Kevin Phillips and Marcus Bent were bought in and after a unbeaten pre-season campaign, 24,019 turned up for the opening day win against Sheffield United. New-boy Phillips netting the goal in the 90th minute.

McLeish had steered Blues to just one defeat in the opening 13 games, the team weren’t setting the world alight but were winning games. Back-to-back defeats soon came at the hands of QPR and Coventry, but it proved to be a minor blip as the team went on a seven game unbeaten run.

The season was going swimmingly well, but you always suspected it wouldn’t be this easy all season. But they plodded on. Sitting towards the top end of the table, January was a tough month in which Blues picked up one win two draws and a defeat. Identical to February.

The football was becoming dour and predictable, but somehow Alex McLeish and his troops were hanging in there. Promotion was the aim.

Three vital wins against Bristol City, Southampton and Doncaster in March pushed Blues that bit closer. Despite missing out on the title after defeat at home to Preston, promotion was clinched at Reading. Blues were back in the big time. It wasn’t easy. A total of 16 players were signed to replace the absent player throughout the injury nightmare. But Blues did enough, finishing second on 83 points. Hats off to Alex and the lads, in particular 14 goal top scorer, Kevin Phillips.

More to follow soon…

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