There is a lot of doom and gloom at the moment, it isn’t easy being a Blues fan eh? After the rise and fall of 2016-17, the current campaign has been a long, hard, grinding struggle against relegation so far. We have hovered around the drop zone all season, and just when it seems we are about to pull clear, we manage to slip backwards again. Victory over Sheffield Wednesday at the beginning of February moved us up to 19th – the highest league position under Steve Cotterill – and set up the derby game perfectly. Of course, we all know what happened next.
Losing to Witton appeared to lead to a hangover for the following two games against Millwall and Brentford, and the forward momentum from January seems to have temporarily evaporated.
However, although those defeats were disappointing and has left us only a point clear of the relegation zone, there is good reason to believe that the team are good enough to avoid the drop and regroup for the 2018-19 season. (I’m refusing to throw in the towel or bedsheet yet!)
Every year, the Championship throws up one team that goes on a good run towards the end of the season and pulls away from the relegation struggle, and we are capable of doing that. Surely, football punters considering a bet on the Championship will be looking at the Blues as a live contender to land a few wins at big prices in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Admittedly, it has taken Cotterill a while to get going at St Andrews. Victory over promotion contenders Cardiff in his first game suggested that the former Bristol City boss had the magic touch, but I think that we all knew that it was going to be tougher than that. After that win in the middle of October, we won only twice more before the end of 2017 and scored a scarcely believable five goals in 13 games, which has been our biggest issue.
As I said, goals have been the problem all season. Blues may have pulled out of the bottom three, but in terms of goals scored, we’re the worst team in the division. In fact, at the time of writing, no other team in the three divisions of the Football League has a worse goalscoring record. I have heard some say the departure of Clayton Donaldson as the cause of the goal drought, but the Blues’ problems this season have been more complex. As I have said previously, our service to the forward(s) has been poor most of the season.
The squad that greeted Cotterill when he took over from Harry Redknapp was virtually unrecognisable from the one that he had coached for three games at the end of last season. The influx of new players – 13 in all – had disrupted the familiar counter-attacking gameplan that the team had fallen back to under Redknapp, and Cotterill’s first task was to produce something cohesive out of the mess of playing styles in the squad – while trying to stem the flow of goals conceded.
Much of that work appears to be done, and a series of positive results – starting with a victory over Leeds at the end of December – suggested that the Cotterill high-pressing style had been embedded. Blues scored three goals without reply against Leeds and Reading and put three goals past both Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday to double the tally of wins and lift ourselves clear of the relegation zone. With Sam Gallagher finding his goalscoring touch and good performances from the likes of Maghoma and Kief, there have been signs that the players are becoming more comfortable with the system, and this (hopefully) bodes well for the rest of the season. Also, up to Tuesday’s result, we have been better at the back and have been conceding fewer goals.
The number of points that has been enough for Championship survival has ranged from 44 to 55 over the last five seasons, with the average being 49. At the time of writing, Blues have 30 points, so this means we would need to take around 19 points from a possible 39 remaining. Six or seven wins from 13 games will be tough, but it is to our advantage that we still have games against fellow bottom-eight sides Barnsley, Nottingham Forest, Burton, Hull and Bolton to come, and that three of the teams below us at the moment – Burton, Barnsley and Sunderland – are out of form and struggling for points.
Relegation battles are rarely straightforward and we NEVER do things the easy way, but unlike some of our relegation rivals, we have shown we can play and amongst the blips, there has been improvement, and that should give us enough momentum to ensure Championship survival. Well, I’m staying positive until we definitely can’t! The truth is, whatever our grumbles and moans about players, managers and directors – our job is to support the side. Let’s get behind the lads starting this weekend against Barnsley. Three points will bring back some confidence and give us a place to hopefully press on to survival.