December 31, 2013 by bluenosebible
We’re only halfway through the season and there has been plenty of ups and downs already (even without mentioning the boardroom). The aim of this season for most fans is to avoid relegation with the uncertainty off the field, so to be nine points clear after the first 23 games is great to see. The league is tight, meaning when the team is doing well we shouldn’t be too over the top or when we’re in the relegation zone we shouldn’t be pressing the panic button.
Blues’ opening fixtures looked difficult on paper up against the three play-off sides who weren’t promoted in the first four fixtures. A narrow home defeat to Watford and a win away to Yeovil Town either side of a Cup win over Plymouth Argyle gave fans optimism that this year could be better than expected.
The positivity soon turned to concern following defeats to Brighton & HA, Leicester City (after leading for the majority of the match), QPR and Burnley. The four defeats saw Blues sit just a place above the relegation zone with goal difference keeping them out the bottom three. Lee Clark’s side did manage to progress to the third round of the Capital One Cup following a very lively return to Yeovil where Tom Adeyemi’s penalty set up a tie with Swansea City in the next round.
Following the worst performance of the season against Burnley up to that point according to Clark, the manager used to loan window to bring in an unfamiliar youngster from Manchester United who was only signed originally for a month. Two days later and Jesse Lingard grabbed the newspaper headlines as the next best thing to come from the United academy after devastating the Sheffield Wednesday defence with an exceptional performance and all four goals to his name. He might not have played like that in every game, but the loan signing gave everyone a lift as his pace and willingness to run at defences was what was missing from the side. With the momentum of the weekend’s performance, Blues’ upset Cup holders Swansea City (although Lingard didn’t play) at St. Andrews and demolished Millwall 4-0 the following week.
Things were starting to look brighter for Blues, but two of the worst performances, both live on TV, came in quick succession as a home defeat to winless Bolton Wanderers and a humiliating hammering in Leeds brought the fans back down to earth and looking over our shoulders again. The tinkering in tactics probably wasn’t helping things at this point as Clark was constantly changing the formation which meant players had to keep adapting to the different systems and defences errors started to occur.
A late point at a rejuvenated Derby County thanks to a Lee Novak volley brought some confidence back into the side before one of the most entertaining games of football I’ve ever been to in the Cup against Stoke City. The crowd of just over 13,000 roared on the home side as they looked to pick up another cup upset, but it wasn’t to be as Stoke progressed on penalties. It didn’t just say that on their day Birmingham can compete with anyone, it said when the going gets tough this side have the desire, determination and pride in shirt to achieve, especially considering they were 3-1 down with five minutes to go in the 90 minutes. Unfortunately, their efforts during mid week meant the side were basically knackered against Charlton and suffered a defeat which saw them move into the relegation zone for the first time this season, but not many people expected the way they’d end the first half to the season.
Nine games unbeaten (hopefully longer after today’s match) for a mid table to bottom half team in a league known for its inconsistency isn’t bad going. The run started at Huddersfield where Kyle Bartley scored a brace and received a second yellow card for celebrating in a 3-1 victory at the Galpharm. Two more good results followed with a draw against high flying Blackpool and a comprehensive 3-0 victory at Barnsley, which saw Blues move well clear of the relegation zone by the end of November.
December didn’t have the best of starts as Clark’s side could only manage a draw with Doncaster, despite dominating the match, and picked up a very late point at home to Middlesbrough just a few days later. Fans might argue that these two results aren’t good enough, but had they been swapped with the wins at Huddersfield and Bournemouth, they would be going crazy about our current form! As mentioned, Blues did make it three successive away wins with a 2-0 victory at Bournemouth. Blues’ haven’t been brushing teams aside on their travels in recent weeks, they have just been clinical in front of goal scoring over half of their shots on target in the last four away games and have been solid at the back, keeping three clean sheets in the last five away games.
The end of the first half of the season ended with two good performances in stalemates against Nottingham Forest and Wigan Athletic along with an excellent win at Ewood Park on Sunday for the first time since 1968. It was a fantastic first half performance as Blues defended very well and took their chances when they came, but in the second half they switched off twice and any striker of Jordan Rhodes’ quality scores both times because he preys on those types of errors.
It’s crucial that we take the form we’re currently in into the second half of the season as our next two home games against Barnsley and Yeovil are must win. If we can improve on some of the results at home and maintain our impressive away form, we might even be looking towards at least a more comfortable end to the season.
Let us know your thoughts on the season so far, the best and worst games and your team of the half season in the comments section below!
Team of the Half Season
GK: Darren Randolph 9/10
Since his move in the summer from Motherwell, Darren Randolph has been Blues’ best player so far this season. We’ve been lucky with our goalkeepers over recent years with Joe Hart, Ben Foster and Jack Butland, but Randolph is certainly holding his own when it comes to who had the best start. Like the other three Randolph is an excellent shot stopper and has kept us in so many games this season like Yeovil in the league, Ipswich and Bournemouth to name just a few. He’s only made errors in two games which shows just good of a signing he has been.
RWB: Paul Caddis 7
On the final day of the summer transfer window Blues negotiated a permanent deal for Paul Caddis with Swindon after an impressive loan spell at the club last season. It appears as if he has picked up from where he left off with his partnership down the right with Chris Burke as the pair seem to have a telepathic understanding at times. Caddis’ overlapping runs are a joy to watch, but he also gets the job done in defence so hopefully the Scot will keep up his form in the second half of the season.
CB: Kyle Bartley 7
There might have been times this season when Kyle Bartley hasn’t been playing regularly, but since the game against Huddersfield where he scored twice, the on loan Swansea defender hasn’t looked back since. With Curtis Davies’ departure in the summer, Bartley has filled the space he left well as both players base their games on power and athleticism. In his last seven games the defence have kept four clean sheets and held strong when up against the wall. If he keeps up his recent upturn in form, he’ll be a mainstay in the Blues’ line up for the rest of the season.
CB: Dan Burn 8
If you walked past Dan Burn in the street you probably wouldn’t think he was a footballer. But since the defender’s arrival in the summer, Burn has been a constant in the Birmingham backline. The 21 year old had a great start to the season until two awful games in October against Bolton and Leeds where he looked a different player. Fortunately he has regained his previous form and formed a good partnership with Kyle Bartley in recent weeks. Burn might be one of the slowest footballers to have played for Birmingham, but he definitely makes up for it by being a great reader of the game and dominant in the air.
CB: Paul Robinson 8
Captain fantastic. Paul Robinson took the armband in the summer and hasn’t looked back since. He made a great start to his Blues’ career last season and has maintained his high levels of performance this season. Robbo’s experience has shown throughout the season with his leadership and ability to get the crowd going with strong challenges against players twice his height a joy to watch. Sometimes players struggle with the expectations that come with captaincy, but not Paul Robinson, he thrives on it.
LWB: Mitch Hancox 7
In October 2012, a small lad by the name of Mitch Hancox made his professional debut against Huddersfield Town. A year and a missing front tooth later and Hancox has become a regular starter in the Birmingham side. The 20 year old has only managed to play eight times this season, but Blues have not lost a game in 90 minutes when Hancox has been involved. As a bluenose himself, it is clear how much it means to him to play for his boyhood side as his passion stands out in every game. With Robinson and Murphy at the club, Hancox has two very experienced left backs to work with and could one day achieve more than those two have in the game.
RW: Chris Burke 7
Earlier on this season Chris Burke was arguably the only real attacking threat we had at times, if anything we relied on the winger too much. 22 league games later and the Scot has surprisingly only managed to score three goals. As mentioned in Caddis’ part, the partnership down the right has been fantastic in attack also in defence, especially in the last few games we’ve won. At times, Burke has been left out of the side, although I’m sure that is more because of fatigue than lack of form. Hopefully in the second half of the season he’ll pick up the goals some of his performances have deserved.
CM: Callum Reilly 7.5
Another bluenose in the side is Callum Reilly, who only made his league debut in December for the first team against Burnley. The Irish U21 international is known for his tough tackling, although he is good with the ball at his feet as well. For most of the season he formed a solid partnership in central midfield with Tom Adeyemi and the pair complement each other very well. With the rise of Olly Lee in the last few games Reilly has been dropped to the bench, but he’ll be pushing him all the way to regain his place in the side.
CM: Tom Adeyemi 8.5
Following his release from Norwich City in the summer, the central midfielder joined Blues in a search of first team football. At first I wasn’t really impressed in the few league games with Adeyemi he’d, but that may have something to do with it being the start of his first season playing in the second tier or above. However, Adeyemi played very well in games against Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea City, showing a great willingness to go forward and the confidence of someone who was starting to settle in well at the club. Now he is an integral part of the Birmingham midfield and if he keeps it up, could well be the club’s player of the season by the end.
LW: Jesse Lingard 7.5
The Manchester United loanee might not have been heard of by many before, but many knew who he was after that game. After making a superb start to his loan spell, there were high expectations on Jesse Lingard to play well every week. He may not have got four goals every week, but Lingard has given Blues the extra pace and creativity we lacked earlier on in the season. I’m not too sure that he is of the quality of a Manchester United player yet as I feel he doesn’t produce an end product regularly enough, however, there is still plenty of time for Lingard to prove me wrong.
ST: Lee Novak 7.5
Mr Lee 100% Novak has to be one of the hardest working players to have played in the royal blue shirt. When he signed in the summer and after the first few games, the critics came out and slammed his goal scoring record without giving the converted winger a chance to settle in. A few months later and we’ve now seen Novak score a volley that required real quality to keep under control and a screamer from 30 yards that any player would be proud of, meaning the critics have been well and truly silenced. To say he is not good enough or a hard worker would be naive as Novak can produce the goods at this level.