Steve Bruce – We’re Sorry?

Argh… I’ve been putting writing something about Steve Bruce off for days now.

There seems to be a massive swell of admiration, adulation and apologies for the man since promotion was achieved on Sunday. You hear people ringing up Tom Ross and see people posting on message boards about how sorry they are that they ever doubted him and how the board were right to stick by him and how he’s definitely the right man for the job.

And why not?

At the beginning of the season, Bruce made a concious decision to sell off all the over the hill stars, players he’d become too reliant on and those who spent more time in the physio’s room than the training pitch. He vowed that he would bring in young and hungry players who were capable of scoring goals.

Out went too many to mention, in came too many to mention. Some we agreed with, some we didn’t. Some we shrugged our shoulders at and wondered just who they were.

Now we find ourselves one game away from the end of the season with promotion secured and just a matched result away from being crowned Champions. If we beat Preston North End on Sunday afternoon, this will be our joint highest ever season as far as point scoring goes – our highest ever in the top two leagues (including if you convert all previous seasons where a win was only worth 2 points.)

Steve Bruce’s vision at the beginning of the season has paid off. For the majority of the season, we haven’t had a full up physio’s room, we haven’t had players who simply look like they can’t be bothered, we haven’t had a team run out of steam in the last 15 minutes of a game, we haven’t looked resigned to anything. The current crop have got bottle, guts and determination in abundance.

Therefore, Steve Bruce’s ideas at the start of the season have paid off and delivered us what we were all so hungry for. Well, what we all demanded if we’re being honest. Promotion back to Premiership. And what a journey it has been. It’s typical of a Steve Bruce team.

When I look back throughout the season, I can’t quite believe that it’s happened. I can’t quite believe that we’re there. It’s finally been done. After lurching from crisis to crisis, the promised land is back in sight. Well done to everyone involved.

On the surface, I’m pleased for Steve Bruce. First of all, he is a bloke who cares. You can tell that doing well – for us, the club and the players he represents – means a lot to him. He has a genuine desire to turn Birmingham City into a force. I believe that about the man. I also believe he’s a genuinely nice fella, a bloke who keeps it simple and says what he needs to say to the right people in order to get certain jobs done.

I, for one, will be satisfied to start next season with Steve Bruce as manager of Birmingham City FC. I want to say that before anything else here. This is not a blog against Steve Bruce in any way. I’m grateful for the job he’s done this term and I think he’s earnt another crack at leading us in the Premiership.

But I have doubts… and Bruce might think of me as unintelligent and Tom Ross might think of me as “evil” but in a true reflective piece on our season and the abilities of our current manager, these doubts have to be questioned.

I have been fairly anti-Bruce all season. I still perhaps believe that if we’d had a more tactically astute coach in charge of this magnificently assembled squad, we’d have won the title already this season.

I’ll ask one question to those currently lauding Brucey. If Lenny Kenny Lunt’s shot had been two inches lower on Saturday and we’d gone on to lose 1-0, how would you be assessing the current boss now? Ringing up saying sorry on local radio or posting about how you love the friendly, bouncy Geordie? Probably not.

Our season has largely depended on the wonderful talents of players such as Nicklas Bendtner and Gary McSheffrey. Players who are worth millions of pounds. Simon Jordan claims that we’ve bought pretty much every striker we could! It’s not far wrong in all honesty. We’ve been allowed to spent a fortune compared to some of our rivals and the individual skill and abilities of some of these players have shone through.

I suppose in some roundabout way, I’m suggesting that individuals allowed by our oversized budget have won us promotion as opposed to the abilities of Steve Bruce. I can’t think of too many occasions this season when I’ve thought to myself “Yeah, that’s a cracking decision by Brucey.” I’ve more often than not been left confused / bemused by decisions.

We’ve often been predictable, as has team selection, and when different games have called for different methods and tactics, Bruce has failed to notice and adapt. How on Earth we can be so lacklustre against the likes of Norwich City, Southend United and Burnley at home beggars belief.

On occasions when we’ve needed that extra spark or bit of creativity to break a resolute side down, Bruce has failed to provide it. He’ll overload the bench with attacking threat but only utilize it when it’s getting nervy with half an hour to go.

Lower half sides must’ve gone away from St Andrew’s chuckling this season such was the lack of action required by the goalkeeper hiding behind his two banks of four. When this happens, we need to see someone who can play.

I’m not going to be one of those who immediately calls for Neil Kilkenny to be put in the side but what about a Neil Danns? Or a more daring 3 at the back formation with an extra man in behind the front two? There’s been hardly any of that this season. There’s been quite a bit of hoof ball when we quickly realise that the midfield’s not quite creative enough for the job at hand. It gives possession to the opposition and sees us under pressure.

What worries me is going back into the Premiership and Bruce being seemingly paralysed by this fear of getting beat. I’m not one of those who believes that losing a game 3-2 is better than drawing a game 0-0 but at times, games literally cry out for someone who can put his foot on the ball and play it. No hoofing, no shovelling it out to the wing at every given opportunity because no-one else is capable.  At times, even on Saturday, we didn’t look like we knew how to pass to a bloke in a blue shirt.

A lot has been made of the fact that this side is very young, very inexperienced and was put together rather quickly. Up until now, I’ve underestimated just what a job that can be for a manager. He definitely deserves credit for that. He also deserves credit for admitting that he’s made mistakes and trying to correct them (the three strikers thing springs immediately to mind.)

Bruce has endured some terrible stick this season, some deserved, some not. I’ll have my say if I think he’s not doing the business, but equally I’ll defend him (and have done) if I think he’s done a good job of something and others decide to slate him.

At the moment, he is, in my opinion, on an upward curve and the players that he’s brought in will hopefully be more at home in the Premiership than in the Championship – we’ve been hearing all season about how ‘x’ and ‘x’ are finding adjusting to life in the Championship difficult. Let’s hope it doesn’t take time to reacclimatize! After all, we have a good record in the cups against Prem sides this term.

6/10

And so… with all this said, I’ll be giving Bruce a 6/10 on the Bruce-O-Meter today.

He’s gone up three spots for coming through some tough spots this season. I think we’ve all underestimated how difficult it’s been at times and how hard the Championship is as a league.

At the beginning of the season, he had a vision. He’s gone about that and brought what was expected. For that, he deserves credit and a definite second chance at the Premiership as manager of Birmingham City.

Introducing The Bruce-O-Meter…!

A while ago, the good people of the Joys & Sorrows forum were discussing a way to measure how well or badly Steve Bruce was doing as the manager of our beloved club. ‘TerribleBlue’ came up with the idea of the ‘Bruce-O-Meter’ and set to work on a simple set of images to go with the concept.

That was months ago…

Today I’m finally getting around to making the thing a small feature on the blog and I take complete blame for it taking so long to see the light of day. Initially I couldn’t think of a decent way of using it. I wanted everyone to have a say in how well Brucey was doing but in the end couldn’t figure out a simple enough interactive way to present it.

Then Norwich City happened and I figured Bruce would get the bullet before I had chance to implement it – then we went on an amazing run and I didn’t want to introduce it whilst we were doing so well because I still didn’t think Bruce deserved 8 or 9 out of 10 because of the previous couple of seasons. However, had I introduced it and given him 3 or 4 out of 10 when we’re doing so magnificently, I’d have no doubt had my inbox invaded by 100’s of people telling me how pessimistic I am and how I should give the manager more credit for turning it around!

Now!

We’re in a bit of a jam. We’re not playing very well in the league, Steve Bruce seems to have gone back to what he was doing earlier in the season and we’re eight points off the top of the division. If the right action is taken now, we can turn our season around. If the wrong action is taken, we could find ourselves struggling to hang on to a playoff spot.

I suppose I’ve waited until our recent record has happened to introduce this feature due to – I believe – many more Blues fans views on Bruce now matching up with my own. The magnificent run was never going to continue and I’ve waited for it to end. Not so I can jump up and down and call for Bruce’s head – but to give Bruce the rating I feel he’s deserving of.

Like I said earlier, I couldn’t think of a decent way of implementing it so that everyone could have a say. If you know of a simple way other than simply doing a weekly blog / poll asking for people’s opinions then let me know. For now I’ll simply have my say on how well I think our esteemed manager is doing… my blog, I pay the bills etc!

Periodically I’ll update this when something interesting / amusing / newsworthy happens concerning Bruce.

Today I rate our boss:

Steve Bruce - 3/10

A miserable 3/10!

I’m sure some people will jump up and down and demand to know how I can give a manager who has taken us to 4th in the league (with two games in hand), delivered the 5-1 win against Newcastle United and brought in some fantastic new players for us over the last few months a paltry 3/10.

Well, let me explain.

Before this season started, Bruce had no standing with quite a few Bluenoses – myself included. I felt that his startling tactics and his over reliance on certain individuals cost the club dear. It is was possible to give the bloke a score in the minuses, I probably would’ve done.

Into this season and he at least started to ship out the dead wood and bring in fresh “young and hungry” players. It seemed that a squad that wanted to represent Birmingham City was being assembled – even if it did seem like Bruce was simply buying up all the lower division talent that had scored goals.

In short : the squad had a cobbled together feel and it didn’t seem as though Bruce was identifying problems to solve. I stood by and watched as our manager bought in players simply because they’d scored fifteen from midfield in League One. Even David Gold remarked that he’d have signed a goalkeeper had he been capable of getting one or two a season.

That showed a distinct lack of planning and whilst I was pleased with the players, I wasn’t pleased with the apparent lack of vision in what I personally thought we should be doing.

We tried to be the side that played attacking football and scored goals but we had a weak underbelly and were being out played at times, out muscled at others and just didn’t look like anything had clicked. Bruce churned out excuse after excuse about needing time to gel and I lost count of the amount of times I heard the figures of how many had gone and how many had been brought in. We’ll paper over the fact that Cardiff City had done the same but were 10 or 11 points ahead of us!

Then Norwich City happened and I know for some ‘Noses, they felt more embarrassed by Norwich than they did by Liverpool in the Cup the previous season. A great chunk of the Blues fans on ‘duty’ that night booed Bruce when he touched the ball and it seemed as though his time was up.

Incredibly he claimed that the majority of Blues fans were behind him and that it was just an internet message board few that were against him. Tom Ross backed him up and it seemed that a clear divide had happened. Steve Bruce had alienated himself from a great chunk of the fanbase and his dismissal seemed to be the only logical way forwards.

The board backed him and then that deflected Stephen Clemence goal at Derby County might’ve changed the course of Steve Bruce’s career as Birmingham City manager. Bruce went on a verbal diarrhoea spree for the next few weeks and waxed lyrical about the board being intelligent people and basically, along with Tom Ross, said that anyone who’d dare doubt his position as Blues boss was wrong and not entitled to such an opinion.

It’s those constant interviews about the board being the smart people and the fans who questioned what was happening being the incorrect and ‘wrong’ ones that got my back up. Even during our good run we had a huge amount of luck and only the skill and killer instincts of Nicklas Bendtner – an Arsenal player – and Gary McSheffrey were keeping us rolling along.

Now of course, I’m not for one second suggesting that the brilliance of the run was down to luck and luck alone. Since Norwich City at home, Steve Bruce became a different man and was a lot more bullish and forthright with his opinions and views. He was strong and seemed to have finally understood that no-one wanted a meek manager who simply tried to please all of the people all of the time. He found a spine and although he never did apologise for all those interviews, he finally seemed to be getting on with the job of managing and gave up his part time position of sniping at fans who’d questioned him.

Of course, it’s impossible to sum up the season without mentioning Bruce’s so-called ‘Love Child’ Damien Johnson – captain of the football club. I’ll cover DJ in depth in a separate blog sometime but Bruce’s insistence on having DJ in the team – both earlier in the season and currently – is damaging the balance of the side. Against Southend United, Johnson looked nervous, edgy and often played a pass – or gave the ball away – when a much more measured or attacking ball was what was required. The fans were getting on his back and we have a new scapegoat now that Julian Gray has all but left.

Johnson doesn’t deserve that but the situation has been completed created by the manager. Bruce made Johnson captain, Bruce made Johnson undroppable and Bruce stubbornly sticks to that decision when everyone else on the planet knows that Johnson is limited on the right and Clemence and Muamba are the best central midfield combination. That leaves just right-back for Johnson and since we have Kelly for that position, it leaves Johnson just one place that he should rightfully be – the subs bench.

The last few games have also seen some baffling decisions and I’m worried that the Bruce of old – overly defensive and too stubborn to change – has returned and that ultimately it will cost us promotion. No-one can deny that we have a superb bunch of players available and there’s a reason we were given the tag of favourites at the beginning of the season.

Bruce did and has made small steps of progress throughout the season but too often does he do things that remind me of the misery of relegation and the limitations of a man who manages like he used to play – tough, stubborn and uncompromising. He doesn’t seem to have that tactical ability to spot exactly what is needed and when. Whether that’s a substitution, a small tactical switch or just a carefully chosen word to bring two warring parties to the table for Peace talks.

I like Steve Bruce the man, I always have. Since Norwich, he’s been more forthright and it’s been much better to listen to – aside from those nauseating brown-nosing speeches about how wonderful the board were. I base my score on what Bruce has done over the last 3 years at St Andrew’s. In short, not a lot.

He’s started to rebuild this season and at this moment in time, I’m teetering on the edge. A few more bad results could see me switch back to how I was at the season’s beginning and equally, a full 90 minute performance like the opening twenty minute period against Southend could see me firmly behind Bruce.

He may only have 3/10 but the next few weeks are crucial in determining which division we’ll be in next season as well as what chance Steve Bruce has of being Birmingham City manager this time next season.

Explanation!

You have arrived at the archive site of the Birmingham City blog Joys & Sorrows. If you were looking for fresh, meaty stuff then this way, please.

This section of the site covers the blog portion of J&S from 26th April 2006 - when the site returned after a catastrophic hosting failure causing the loss of over 500 articles - to 28th April 2008 - when I decided to have a prolonged rest from the site.

Here, if it so takes your fancy, you can find every single article, totalling over 1,000, written by myself and many others over that two year period.

Unfortunately, the formatting on some of the posts is a little rough but since this is an archive, it doesn't matter too much. Nothing is unreadable although a great deal of the links will now, sadly, be broken. So internal Joys & Sorrows links will lead you to 404 errors.

I decided to archive them in this way because I wanted to start something fresh for the main part of the site. Hopefully you'll be able to see that up on the main portion of the site now.

Commenting for the archive section has obviously been switched off. You can flick around the archives by using the 'Find It' function in the middle column or the respective 'Categories' or 'Archives' headings in the sidebars

- Aff, 03/08/08.