In Toon Today: Birmingham City – There’s A Rowett Going On.

Newcastle v Birmingham 10 December 2016 3pm

Who Manages Them:       

Previously considered to be one of the bright new things in football management, one of the young breed of tacticians, advocating quick, incisive football and with all the latest coaching badges and ideas, Gary Rowett has stabilised Birmingham City over the past few years and is looking to move them onto the next level.

After making his name with Burton Albion, in his first season at St Andrews he led the Blues comfortably clear of relegation and kept them there in 2016.

In 5th place as we go into today’s game, City are showing signs of being genuine promotion contenders. Not that they looked like it last week, losing at home to Barnsley, but like NUFC and our so-called “week from hell” last week, Rowett is keen to keep some perspective in the West Midlands:

 “We were not good enough, although 3-0 flatters them. We had opportunities and caused them problems. You could see that they had not won for a while and they were determined to do something about it.

We have not played well in the last three or four games. We got results, but didn’t play well enough and, against Barnsley, it was a culmination of not playing well. We have lost four games in 18 matches, so there is not too much wrong, but against Barnsley we were nowhere near that level.”

This season’s form does seem to have come at a price though. Initially more of a footballing team, Birmingham have adopted a more robust style this season, something Rowett admits when he says his team are more about power and not as easy on the eye as other sides.

Perhaps this harks back to his initial time as part of the ‘Glory Days’ Cambridge United team of the early 90s, where the ball was in the air more than Aled Jones at Christmas, or perhaps it was his belief, like many others, that the Championship is a more UFC than AFC:

 “I joked in the press before the game that I went and watched UFC after the last game. I think that game was a little bit more like UFC, in terms of it being a very combative game.”

Either way, Birmingham are a hard-working, strong, counter-attacking team who have replaced their creative players with runners, so we could be in for another tough afternoon of long spells of possession with the opposition grappling and time-wasting their way to the end of each half.

I suppose with Rowett being the son of a prison officer and with his early time at Birmingham littered with refuted allegations of allegiances to Villa, he’ll have thick skin and won’t be easily shifted from his goals, though he has hinted this week that this game may need a slightly different approach.

Who Have They Signed:                

Che Adams from Sheffield United is a 20 year old with some potential, both pacey and strong. Having come up through non-league, he showed potential at Sheffield United and it was for that reason that Birmingham signed him early this season, their third bid of around £2million being successful.

Adams will play some part in the game today, either up front or as an attacking midfielder and as his former non-league manager said “his biggest asset is that knack of changing games in the blink of an eye” so he must be a bit like Henri Lansbury, though perhaps not in the same way.

His middle name is ‘Everton’ as well, a nod to the traditional West Indian name of his father’s homeland of Antigua rather than an affinity to the football club, like Chelsea Clinton who isn’t named after the richest club in London, or Barrack Road Obama, who has never been seen in The Black Bull.

Up front with Adams will be £500k Greg Stewart from Dundee or Burnley loan signing Lukas Jutkiewicz. 27 year old Jutkiewicz has been around for years, he even spent three years at Everton in the last decade but only played once. In 2014 he signed for Burnley in a £1.25million deal which would rise to £2.25million depending on how many goals he scored, how he played and whether Burnley stayed up or not. After 32 appearances, no goals and relegation, it is safe to say that he only cost £1.25million. Jutkiewicz is eligible to play international football for Ireland, Poland and England and his Wiki page says that no decision has yet been made as to who he will represent. To be fair, I think that decision has been made, it is just that those three countries haven’t told him they don’t want him yet.

At the back, 6 foot 3 defender and emergency centre forward Ryan Shotton will be hard to miss after his move from Derby to Birmingham, first on loan and then permanently in the summer. We have seen the defender before after his time at Stoke, some of it at full back, some of it at right wing and most of it on loan elsewhere.

He’s got a massive throw in as well so it is no surprise that he was at Stoke with Tony Pulis and no surprise that once Pulis left then so did Shotton, Pullis was so keen to play Shotton that he often played him at right wing, a fascinating insight into the manager’s tactical enterprise, “I want my wingers to be able to throw the ball better than they can kick it”, said Tony shortly before signing Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor as a replacement.

 A Special Mention For:               

Robert Tesche, signed on a free transfer from Forest in the summer and should play a pivotal role in an industrious Birmingham midfield and it’ll probably be the German schemer’s job to wind Jonjo Shelvey up. Let’s hope Shelvey is in a better mood than he was at Forest and doesn’t speak any German.
newcastle v birmingham

‘Jonjo Shelvey: What is German for “I can’t hear you”?’

 How Will They Do This Season:

Rowett makes no bones about his ambitions for the season – emulating a team like Burnley, unfashionable but promoted with a team greater than the sum of its parts.

It is easy to scoff at such limited ambition – I’d rather be emulating Real or Atletico – but then Madrid wasn’t built in a day and even the biggest journey starts with the first step, which is to get promoted. Teams like Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday did well last season playing in a direct way and this season the likes of Preston, Leeds and Birmingham have gone on winning runs by playing deep and aggressively and breaking quickly with good set plays.

If what we have seen so far is anything to go by, it is easier to do well in this division by belting the ball to death rather than passing it to death.

With midfielder Davis suspended today and Rowett pointing to a potential change in tactics for this game, it may be that one of Birmingham’s more creative players will get a run out in more of a 4-4-1-1 formation than their usual 4-4-2.

Diego Fabbrini, signed earlier this year in their first seven figure signing in five years, was missing last time out and may get the nod today, though Rowett has spent all week denying trying to offload the Italian international. That Fabbrini, or his gifted understudy Reece Brown, aren’t getting much of a game shows that creative players are off the menu at St Andrews this season but with winger Maghoma missing with a mystery illness, Rowett may need more spark to maintain the Blues early season form, especially today against a smarting NUFC:

“Sometimes when you’re on the ball you’ve got less passing options because your lines are perhaps a little bit flatter. So, there are lots of different areas that 4-4-2 can cause you a problem, particularly with the two strikers we’ve got playing it. We haven’t got a natural number 10 playing as a striker that can drop into those spaces.”

Neither have we.

newcastle v birmingham

‘The Last of the Number 10s’

Are We Going To Win:                          

After the last three games it is obviously vital that we get back on track with a win and a good performance.

Keeping 11 men on the pitch would be a start, but we had 11 against Blackburn so it is not always the referee’s fault. SJP seems to be becoming such a difficult place to play that even we can’t do it. Another team will arrive backed by loud supporters who are looking forward to their day and Birmingham work well as a unit, don’t get ahead of themselves, break quickly on the counter and are greater than the sum of their parts.

It is probably time for our creative players to start turning up, we have seen little of Diame, Perez and Atsu so far this season while Matt Ritchie has by his own admission been less consistent than he would have liked.

It looks to me like we have a striker who can score goals, a defence that can stop them and a central midfield which is well balanced, today it might be our creative players that are the difference.

There may be a Rowett going on at St Andrews but there is a Rafalution at SJP, albeit a quiet and methodical one. In Rafa’s own words, his young and fairly inexperienced team will need our support today.

Howay The Lads.

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