November 27, 2014 by bluenosebible
By Shane Ireland
It was approaching five o’clock on Saturday 25th October as Tokelo Rantie scored AFC Bournemouth’s eighth goal without reply against Birmingham City. St Andrew’s was a nucleus of dismay, embarrassment and utter dejection.
Five days earlier, Lee Clark had been sacked as Blues boss. His last match, a 1-0 home defeat to Bolton, was a culmination of a miserable two-and-a-half-years in charge. Clark had only escaped relegation the season before thanks to a minor miracle, when Paul Caddis headed a 93rd minute equaliser in the final seconds of the 2013/14 Championship season to push Blues out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
He left the Blues in 22nd place, looking destined for League One.
But, as Birmingham City had truly hit rock bottom, one man arrived and changed the entire feel of the club around. That man is Gary Rowett.
Rowett returned to St Andrew’s after a 14-year exile and realistically, couldn’t have made a better start as manager for the club he made almost 100 appearances for at full-back.
His first month in charge has kickstarted a dramatic change on and off the pitch. The squad of free transfers and loans, which Rowett has subtly added to, are putting in performances which are a far cry from their displays under Clark. He has galvanised the fans, who were justifiably despondent before his arrival.
As a result, Birmingham are experiencing play-off form after their new boss’ unbeaten start. The Blues have won two and drawn two of Rowett’s opening four matches, which has seen them up against some of the Championship’s finest in Wolves, Watford and Cardiff City.
The fans first taste of Rowett’s modern and dynamic managerial style, sporting a shirt and jumper on the touchline, came with a baptism of fire away at Wolves. His priority was to shore up a leaky back-four which conceded eight a week earlier – a goalless draw was the result. Michael Morrison, who Rowett brought in on loan from Charlton, performed well on his debut at the centre of defence.
But it was the first home match of his reign which stood out as a turning point. It was a gritty and determined performance which Blues fans have rarely seen at St Andrew’s in recent years, and was reminiscent of midweek matches during more successful times in the top flight. The players fed off the crowd, and vice versa, with Rowett’s tactical perfection on the night resulting in a victory against Watford, who occupied top spot in the Championship upon arrival.
The most significant change under Rowett’s stewardship is that the players are playing like a team. That may seem obvious, but the players have looked like individuals for far too long and Rowett’s arrival has changed that – everybody on the pitch is contributing and giving their all.
Saturday’s superb win at Rotherham showed exactly that.
Those three points mean that in Rowett’s opening four matches, Birmingham have taken eights points and conceded just one goal, keeping three clean sheets. It took Blues 39 matches to keep as many clean sheet prior to his arrival.
There is a real sense of optimism which has long been missing at St Andrew’s. Rowett has changed the whole ethos surrounding the team and the fans. Andy Shinnie, an outcast following poor form since his arrival from Inverness last summer, is performing at a level few thought he was capable of. Similarly, Clayton Donaldson has scored three goals in four matches, doubling his tally in the previous 14 games. The players look calm and assured, which is thanks to Rowett’s level-headed yet inspiring manner in the dressing room and on the touchline.
Rowett has transformed Birmingham from relegation fodder to a team in play-off form, and the revolution has just begun.
Where do you feel Blues can realistically finish this season?