This season should’ve been remembered as one of success and celebration for Birmingham City after their Carling Cup Final victory over Arsenal at Wembley in February. Instead, Blues fans have been left with a feeling of resentment and regret after their slide down the table saw them relegated from the Premier League on the final day of the season.
A slow start to the season, in which City won just one of their first eight games, was book-ended by five defeats in their last six, hardly the form of a team desperate to stay in the division. They weren’t considered favourites for relegation at the beginning of the campaign, but it appears that relegation crept up on Alex McLeish and his men. So much so, in fact, that on ‘Survival Sunday‘, the Blues were safe from the drop up until three minutes from the end of their game with Tottenham. Roman Pavlyuchenko finally put the decisive nail in the coffin.
Beating Aston Villa at home was as good as it got for the Blues as far as Midlands bragging rights were concerned, as they picked up just one win from the six games against the Villains, West Brom and Wolves. And with the humiliation of relegation hanging over them as well, it looks like being a long summer of discontent amongst the St. Andrews faithful. Alex McLeish, meanwhile, will begin work on remodelling his squad for the Championship next season after he confirmed he would be staying as manager.
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The Scot will doubtless be keen to hold onto key players such as Scott Dann and Ben Foster, who were so important in the Blues Premier League campaign last season. This time around, with Dann missing out on a significant chunk of action through injury, Birmingham simply haven’t been as good in defence, conceding 11 more goals than last season. That, coupled with a faltering presence in the attacking third of the pitch which saw them score just 37 goals all season, the lowest amount in the division, would ultimately be a recipe for disaster. Top scorer, midfielder Craig Gardner, scored just eight league goals, whilst the likes of veteran Kevin Phillips, Nikola Zigic, Cameron Jerome and loanee Obafemi Martins mustered just nine between them.
Two wins away from home certainly didn’t help matters, but despite the Blues’ decline, one must not overlook the club’s biggest victory of the season back in February. Attempting to juggle Championship football with a Europa League campaign will certainly be unique, but the value of having the Carling Cup in the trophy cabinet will still mean something, despite relegation. The win over Arsenal meant the Blues picked up their first trophy in 48 years. Come this time next season , McLeish will hope he will have added another, less illustrious piece of silverware to his resume, that being the title from England’s second tier.
Coach – Alex McLeish: Very much a mixed bag for the former Rangers man, having guided his team to success at Wembley but also taken them down. Bouncing straight back to the Premier League will be a true test of the Scot’s managerial credentials. Board must show faith in their man.
Player of the season – Craig Gardner: Top scorer in the league having made the switch from rivals Villa last season, Gardner’s versatility has served Birmingham well with the absence of Scott Dann in defence. Though a lifelong City fan, keeping hold of the impressive 24 year old in the summer may be easier said than done.
Turning point – Carling Cup Final win: Fantastic achievement in the club’s history against more illustrious opponents in Arsenal, but also the start of the Blues downfall in the league. Alex McLeish may think twice before taking the Carling Cup so seriously again, as his team never improved from their Wembley success. Strong finish to the season would’ve been key.
Average starting XI:
Carr – Johnson – Dann – Ridgewell
Gardner – Ferguson – Bowyer – Larsson
Jerome – Zigic