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Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.
Back in June 2015, with Gary Rowett at the helm having taken them from 21st place in the Championship the previous October to a league finish of tenth, the outlook was rosy for Birmingham City.
The investment vehicle Trillion Trophy Asia had just taken-over, ending the troubled reign of Carson Yeung and promising to spend big on players as they sought to return the club to the Premier League.
Such investment has not come, Rowett has been permitted to spend under half of the £12 million new owner Paul Shuen stated would be available in his letter to shareholders, but it has not hindered steady progression from the days of the transfer embargo in 2012 and the narrow escape from relegation to the third tier in 2013/14.
Birmingham again finished tenth last season with an almost identical record to Rowett’s first campaign, but this year, after a quiet summer of transfer activity in which the only money spent was on Che Adams from Sheffield United and Greg Stewart from Dundee, Birmingham sit 7th at the near-halfway mark, a point off the play-offs and 3 points below Reading in third.
Winger David Cotterill summed up the news with the tweet “Wow” and it is indeed a bewildering decision that, it is hard to believe, has been apparently made “with a strategic, long-term view and with the club’s best interests at heart”.
Recent convincing defeats at the hands of Barnsley and Newcastle may have raised alarm but those two setbacks were never enough to justify the sacking of Rowett who stopped the mini-rot with a hard-fought victory on Tuesday.
Clayton Donaldson scored his sixth of the season from the penalty spot and Michael Morrison powered home a corner from Cotterill to overcome a direct Ipswich who drew Birmingham into a battle of attrition.
Unappealing playing style
It wasn’t pretty, with the home side lucky to see Ipswich have a late equaliser ruled out, and it meant Birmingham have now not scored from open play since the draw at Huddersfield on Bonfire night.
Only Cardiff, Ipswich and Rotherham create less chances per game than Rowett’s Birmingham (8.2) and it is perhaps the short-of-free-flowing style that caused fans to turn away on Tuesday evening, with 15,212 fans making up St Andrew’s lowest crowd of the season so far.
An extended run for Adams, who played the 2nd half on Tuesday once Clayton Donaldson had gone off with injury, and the return to fitness of Jacques Maghoma, may address the current bluntness but Rowett was reportedly waiting until the January transfer window to add to a squad that, bar Donaldson, Adams, Cotterill and the on-loan Lukas Jutkiewicz, looks thin on attacking threat.
Well-drilled and resilient
A new manager, with Gianfranco Zola the early favourite, will now oversee a next round of recruitment and it is odd that Rowett will not get the chance to do so given he has shrewdly built a well-drilled, resilient side over the past few years despite the budget restraints.
Other than Adams, only Maikel Kieftenbeld, signed from Dutch club FC Groningen for just over £200k, has been added as a regular starter to the team Rowett inherited and the 26-year-old has impressed alongside Stephen Gleeson and the hard-working and versatile David Davis.
That midfield is central to a rigid counter-attacking style that utilises the physicality of Donaldson and Jutkiewicz to move the ball forward at pace.
It is only the league’s bottom club Rotherham that average less passes per game than Birmingham’s 307.4 and only the Millers and Cardiff enjoy less of the ball.
Scarce reasons for the sacking
After an “18-month review of all playing and non-playing matters”, maybe TTAL have deduced Rowett’s passive but organised style isn’t going to guide them back into the top-flight.
A headline name in Zola is apparently wanted. The reasons for sacking Rowett appear scarce.
Written by Adam Gray
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