Gary; You’ve taken Blues this far, let’s not wonder what could have been and make a real play-off push

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March 29, 2016 by Shane Ireland

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By Shane Ireland

I’ll begin by stating I’m as big a fan of Gary Rowett as you are likely to find.

The way in which he has transformed this club since his arrival has restored smiles to the faces of fans inside St Andrew’s and provided hope and ambition that for so long was missing.

It is that transformation, his own revolution, which has unquestionably led us to where we are now.

This season, especially, we have had something to cling on to. A real goal, a chance, a shot at success.

And now, as Birmingham reach the closing stages of this Championship campaign, the side sit six points outside the play-offs with nine matches remaining. Nine vitally important, season-defining fixtures.

It is perhaps unfair on the manager and the players that the next six weeks’ events will ultimately detail Blues’ entire season, as the club have plenty to be proud of since the 2-1 win against Reading on the opening day back in August.

But, of course, league position provides the simplest aspect of which to judge performance and Blues have a battle on their hands to climb into the spots which have openly been designated as the target.

To reach the top six, Blues need to employ a “nothing to lose” attitude, group together and throw everything they have into an assault on sixth position.

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There is almost an embarrassment of clichés which suit the situation – Rowett’s side need to “throw the kitchen sink” at the effort, and “throw caution to the wind” on the pitch.

However these overworked and overused terms are, in this case, undeniably true. The sometimes-cautious approach has been effective in planting Blues just outside the play-offs, but a more aggressive plan of action is required to actually reach them.

The search for a striker to bring in on loan was ended when Kyle Lafferty signed from Norwich City last week, and the fresh impetus the Northern Ireland forward will provide should help take the pressure off Clayton Donaldson who is struggling for form. It is not fair to pin Blues’ quest for the top six entirely on the former Rangers frontman as some have done, but his arrival means that Rowett has a new and welcome card up his sleeve.

Whether the boss will rotate the pair or attempt to play them alongside one another remains to be seen, but previous evidence suggests that Rowett will maintain a one-striker formation which, in fairness, has worked rather well since he stepped in from Burton Albion in November 2014.

A system which features a lone striker is most certainly not a “defensive” one but Blues often look pedestrian and lethargic in attack when that forward has three central midfielders behind him. Stephen Gleeson, Mikael Kieftenbeld and David Davis each have their finer qualities but playing the trio together means that Blues, despite the players’ best efforts, sacrifice some of their danger going forward.

In some matches, a 4-3-2-1 tactic is suitable. For example, the draw at Wolves saw that gameplan executed perfectly. Blues were defensively rigid in the first-half and, after the introduction of Jacques Maghoma and subsequent shifting of Jon Toral into the middle, attacked with purpose in the second period and should have won the game. But it was only when Donaldson was supported by Maghoma, Toral and David Cotterill as a three behind him that Blues looked dangerous and created several chances.

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But last week, when Blues played Fulham at St Andrew’s, the starting eleven and the system should have reflected the personnel and formation that finished the match at Molineux. However, the same 4-2-3-1 system was adopted at kick-off, and despite tactical changes throughout the match including a change to 4-4-2, Michael Morrison’s equaliser came three minutes after Maghoma’s introduction. Birmingham had won six of their previous seven at home before the match and were hosting a side just one point above the relegation zone – a case can be made for starting the game with three attacking midfielders behind Donaldson instead of two wingers.

We head to south-east London to face Charlton Athletic on Saturday – another side struggling at the bottom of the league – and how refreshing it would be for Blues take the game to their opposition from kick-off and make a statement of intent with a proactive, attacking display.

Perhaps we are not respecting ourselves enough, or continuing with the narrative that we are overachieving which means the approach is too cautious, but ultimately, Blues are within touching distance of the play-offs on their own accord and because of their own performances. And deservedly so.

Are Blues really overachieving? The 3-0 demolition jobs unleashed on Derby County and Ipswich Town say otherwise, as does the victory against title hopefuls Hull City at the beginning of March, and the league-best recent home record.

Although most fans would have been content with a decent top-half finish at the beginning of the season, the generally positive results since means that expectations have naturally risen and Blues have a genuine chance at making the play-offs which should not be taken lightly.

We are still viewed as underdogs and outsiders to finish in the top six by those around us, so why not make the most of a situation which is not guaranteed next season?

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There’s nothing to lose, aside from a few places which will effect which of the mid-table berths Blues end up in, and I, for one, don’t want to be left wondering what could have been in May.

Gary, let’s embrace the chance we have.

Adapt your measured approach which has taken us this far and take a few more risks which could push us even further, because the next step is a big one. All the way to the Premier League.

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