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McLeish's Birmingham defy odds

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Phil McNulty | 23:30 UK time, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Alex McLeish insists the Premier League table that has Birmingham City perched in sixth place above Liverpool will not be a souvenir in his scrapbook - at least not unless it looks the same at the end of the season.

Birmingham's fifth successive league win, secured with a 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, at least means the scale of McLeish's work is down in black and white.

It also confirms that while Martin O'Neill is winning plaudits once more for guiding Aston Villa into the top four, great things are also being achieved down the road at St Andrew's.

Something is stirring in these parts - and Birmingham City and McLeish deserve their share of the spotlight just as much as neighbours Villa.

The wag who claimed Manchester United's 3-0 win against Wolves drove at the heart of Birmingham's chances of winning the Premier League had tongue firmly in cheek, but there is a rapid adjustment taking place at St Andrew's.

A season that started with success being measured by a place in the top 17 is now seeing sights set a little higher - and McLeish is happy to shoulder the added expectation.

Alex McLeish barks out instructions to his playersAlex McLeish barks out instructions to his players

Birmingham's season is still about consolidation - and a mid-table finish must be regarded as huge success - but what a platform for progress McLeish has built.

The good news for Birmingham is that McLeish made it abundantly clear after this latest win that he will continue to throw challenges down to his players. The points in the bag are regarded as the foundation for more, not an insurance policy against future failings.

Birmingham will suffer hard times ahead, but McLeish and his players deserve all the credit currently coming their way for defying the odds and sending real optimism surging around St Andrew's.

McLeish is making life easy for new Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung. But what the Scot has done so far this season has earned him the right to make it more difficult for Yeung in January, when the Hong Kong businessman should reward him by signing some large transfer cheques.

Yeung has also found a manager who relishes the prospect of regime change. McLeish has faced unsettled times at St Andrew's, but his clear-headed and positive approach since the arrival of the new owners has made the transition a simple business.

No talk about Yeung getting in his own man. No need. Who could have done better than McLeish?

While Villa have been claiming the big headlines, and not without justification after winning at places like Manchester United, McLeish has been working the markets and making his plans just as shrewdly as O'Neill.

And this is why Birmingham have every chance of making this season a success story. Not with a top-six finish - there has to be realism - but by doing much more than simply survive.

I asked McLeish what philosophy he had laid out to his players before the start of the campaign. He replied: "Everyone knew what the first target was without me having to say anything. It was to finish in the top 17 in the Premier League. That was the mantra at the start of the season and remains the same, but we have to be confident about our team and about building on this fantastic first half of the season."

That is likely to come in the shape of the big spending promised by the new Yeung regime, although McLeish added: "I don't think we have got to go for a big 'Galactico' name that might upset the dressing room unless the players recognise he's going to make a huge difference to the team."

The prospect of joining a side nestling in the upper reaches of the Premier League, albeit unexpectedly, should also appeal to any potential new recruits.

So far, McLeish has built his side around players with plenty to prove.

Barry Ferguson was a composed presence against Blackburn Rovers, the club where he had an unfulfilling first spell in England. He also wants to make his mark after a somewhat sour end to his Rangers' career.

Lee Bowyer is reborn as the goalscoring midfield player of old, while Stephen Carr, tempted out of retirement by McLeish, performed with a new lease of life against Blackburn.

And in a defence that has been miserly this season, McLeish is being well served by Scott Dann and Roger Johnson, players of Championship pedigree hungry to show they are at home among the elite.

McLeish has also shown a sure touch with striker Cameron Jerome, backing him when goals failed to come and getting his reward with a double to beat Blackburn. If Chucho Benitez can add composure and clinical finishing to his burning pace and non-stop running, Birmingham might have a real impact player on their hands.

McLeish played down some of the element of surprise by reminding us, correctly, that he is used to success both as a player with Aberdeen and a manager with Rangers. He has an idea what is required, so no-one should be too stunned by his obvious competence.

But Birmingham's success so far should be celebrated, as Blackburn Rovers boss Sam Allardyce recognised, even in defeat.

So we should let Sam, looking in excellent shape after his recent heart surgery, have the final word. "Surely the headlines have to be about five successive Premier League wins for Birmingham," he said. "A marvellous, marvellous, marvellous achievement."

You can follow me throughout this season at http://twitter.com/philmcnulty and join me at Facebook (requires registration)

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    First post!!

    Phil, as a rangers fan I can tell you Alex is an absoltely top notch manager. He did a great job at arnagers at a time when the budget was being more than halved and the likes of £12m on Tore Andre Flo was being seen as silly money.

    He builds solid, hard to beat teams that were always a nightmare to play against and could often gruind something out. He did exactly the same with scotland, with 2 wins against france showing he knows what he is about.
    Delighted hes getting the recognition he deserves.

  • Comment number 2.

    Well done Birmingham and inparticular Alex McLeish you are doing a sterling job, long may it continue.

    Plus it is always nice to see Sam Allardyces team lose!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    My first post too.

    Thanks Phil, at last a sensible and reasoned comment about Birmingham. I despair sometimes about the media focus on the big four and its lack of coverage of the "minor" clubs. This blog starts to set the balance right.

    And I have to admit I was wrong about Alex McLeish - I suspected both that he wasn't able to crystallise a team spirit and that the Blues weren't really ready for promotion last season. But to be here at this point in the season is an excellent accomplishment - and I'll certainly add this league table to my scrapbook - along with the one from some seasons ago when we were above Manchester United. For a bluenose these are moments to be treasured.

  • Comment number 4.

    Celtic fan but always liked McLeish.. he conducts himself well and must be a calming presence in the dressing room.

    The test could really come with the large amounts of money that are being touted that he has available.. This brings a whole new pressure and can sometimes undo a manager who is used to dealing in the 3-5 mil market which McLeish has for the majority of the time.

  • Comment number 5.

    For Birmingham read Reading. Yet another team full of aspirant players able to raise their game in the Premiership in the short term, yet unable to sustain it in the middle term. It's one thing to take Premiership stalwarts by surprise in the first half of the season, but come the second half everyone's spotted your weaknesses and is able to exploit them.

    Watch as Birmingham drop off the pace next spring and then struggle next season. And my money's on Stoke to stop bucking the trend and drop like a stone into the relegation zone over the next five months.

  • Comment number 6.

    Well done big ec...for this season anyway. They will probably finish around about 10th-12th place which is an excellent achievement. However, if ever a squad is set up for 2nd season syndrome, it is birmingham as they currently stand.

    The likes of Bowyer, Ferguson, Carr etc are all 30+ and reaching the end of their career, when the going gets tough I can see the performance level of these guys reducing rapidly. Jerome will never score enough goals to lead a premiership frontline, and CHUCHO will prove to be a frustrating figure, and signs this season tell me that he is possibly a loner within a close knit squad.

    Mcfadden I know well from his everton days, and is not the kind of player you need or even want when you are struggling, his attitude can sometimes be poor and although he is working hard for the team just now, this is not his strong point.

    The likes of Dann and Johnson at the back are performing brilliantly in their 1st season at the top level. I can only wonder however that their inexperience will tell sooner rather than later. Dann is a local lad to where I live and has a bright future I just hope such a set back will not hinder his progress...he's served a very comprehensive apprenticeship to be where he is.

    In short, yes they may do well this season, but the board will have to back him in the summer for numerous (Premiership experienced) players.

  • Comment number 7.

    Very good article Phil.
    As an Aberdeen fan I have always liked McLeish (except perhaps the few years he managed Rangers!). He is smart, determined, and very good with people, so it doesn't surprise me to see him doing so well. Am delighted that he is.
    Just to correct something in Post 1 from weezer316, the Rangers fan. Big Eck was only in charge of one of the Euro 08 qualifier wins over France (the win in Paris). Watty Smith was still manager for the win at Hampden. That isn't the first time, and won't be the last, that you witness a Rangers fan display their ignorance.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Phil,
    Hi Phil,
    Firstly can I thank you for such a positive blog posting about Birmingham City. Over the last few years we have had very little to celebrate. Under the previous board the feel good factor of football at St Andrews had been whittled away as they constantly preached preseason that they would bring in this player or that player only to let the fans down after they had boosted season ticket sales. These marketing tactics slowly drove away the fans until the atmosphere had changed from one of high energy and passion to one of resigned dejection. In short we expected to lose, to fail and to always fall at the final hurdle. This feeling was so prevalent that it is hard to break away from that feeling even now.

    With the new owners coming in the whole place has expelled a huge sigh of relief, suddenly the grass looks greener, the players sharper and the management team brighter.

    I am sure we will fall back down the league over the next few months but with the new boards backing we could/might see a bright new blue future.


    With the new owners coming in the whole place has expeled a huge sigh of relief, suddenly the grass looks greener, the players sharper and the management team brighter.

    I am sure we will fall back down the league over the next few months but with the new boards backing we could/might see a bright new blue future.

  • Comment number 9.

    #5 Agree we've seen this time and time again (Ipswich, Reading etc.) but what Birmingham have that they didn't is significant money to spend. They definitely need to be careful though, as they don't want too much disruption. I suspect they'll stay up this year even if they don't recruit, so maybe they should look at bringing in 2 good quality players that add strength to the squad without immediately ousting any of the current crop. Good players they can phase in rather than a big name that would demand to play straight away.

    I'd say 2 solid, Premiership class recruits in January and 3 really top class recruits in the summer, the type that will establish them as a top half side. That's half a team without excessive disruption.

    Agree that the current squad would probably do a Reading though. Will be interesting to see who he goes for.

  • Comment number 10.

    I echo the thoughts of Bug Sam and say well done to Alec McLeish. Five wins on the spin is extraordinary in the Premier League. That doesn't include the draw against Liverpool either, another fantastic result.

    The turn around for me has been Birmingham finding their goal scoring touch. From the beginning of the season it was clear they were not going to concede many. However, McLeish kept swapping his front two and didn't allow any partnership to get an understanding.

    Now that he's settled on Jerome and Benetiz the rewards are evident. A lesson to other managers who should be fighting relegation?

    http://thoughtsonfootball.wordpress.com/2009/08/23/birmingham-and-their-lack-of-goals/

    P.S. Not enough credit should go to McLeish for recognising very talented players in the Championship and proving that they can play in the Premier League.

  • Comment number 11.

    You quote:

    'Alex McLeish insists the Premier League table that has Birmingham City perched in sixth place above Liverpool will not be a souvenir in his scrapbook - at least not unless it looks the same at the end of the season.'

    So why not save this article until then, after we know where they've finished? Yes, Birmingham have had a very good start and good luck to them but once again a premature and unnecessary waste of bandwidth.

  • Comment number 12.

    One of my mates is an avid bluenose and I have been and seen the Blues about four or five times at St Andrews. The Birmingham fans have been very patient over the years and I'm glad to see them doing well this season (although above the team I follow!, Liverpool).

    Big 'Eck is a good manager. He is to me what we seem to be missing in Rafa, i.e a manager who can make poor players into average ones, average into good, and good into great. He has proven this with Rangers, Scotland and Birmingham. He seems to have the knack of working well without vast resources. The only thing for Blues fans I would be worrying about would be will Mr Yeung and his cronies meddle in team affairs. I hope they don't and that they back McCleish in the transfer market in January and beyond. As post 6 says they need to strengthen the squad due to age etc.

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks Phil for being the first journo to actually give McLeish the credit for what he has achieved. He is the most dignified and honest manager in the PL. Always courteous, never complains about bad luck or refereeing decisons he just gets on with his job.

    There are one or two jealous posts on here refering to second season syndrome but these posters do not know Big Eck. There is not a chance that he will let that happen. We have one of the best owners in the league and they are so enthusiastic it is a joy to behold. They will make sure that McLeish has the funds to strengthen the side both in the January and summer transfer windows.

    Realistically I think most bluenoses are not expecting us to finish as high in the table as we are now but a mid table finish will be an astonishing success for a newly promoted team.

    In the meantime I'm just enjoying the ride.

  • Comment number 14.

    Birmingham deserve a lot of credit. Its good to see a promoted team or two (shouldn't forget Burnley) actually doing well for once. In fact, its in keeping with what has become a really interesting season.

  • Comment number 15.

    I can only assume the windows in Mr. Matley's house are very clean (see post 11 - So why not save this article until then, after we know where they've finished?)

    Why don't we save all sports journalism till after the season has finished. I'm sure no one wants to read any analysis of games until after all 38 matches have been played. I don't know you even read it yourself.

    A good achievement by Birmingham and Mcleish though. It is definitely looking like one of the best and most interesting Premiership seasons since its inception.

  • Comment number 16.

    Simply winning five successive Premier league matches would be an achievement for most teams this season. In that respect this is a deserved article of praise for Big Eck and Birmingham City. A good blog (three words I don't write too often these days.)

  • Comment number 17.

    Post number 11:

    Your view point is what is wrong with football journalism in this country. A top 4 supporter who ahs thrown his toys out of the pram as the blog doesnt mention the title!

    Congratulations phil on actually picking up on a great achievement from a lesser team. Nothing would make me prouder than if blues ousted a moneybags or big name from the top 6. I doubt it will happen but as long as someone else does it i'll be happy. the premiership is stupidly predictable as is the journalism and the endless blogs on the usual suspects only encourages youngsters all over the country to supprt a team they will never see live and are miles away from. Perhaps we should not talk about liverpool for the rest of the season. After all theyre doing nothing on the pitch worthy of comment.

  • Comment number 18.

    Surely this is a great of example of how sticking with a manager can work out. Birmingham could easily have sacked McLeish after they got relegated in the season before last but they stuck with him, he got them promoted and they are now reaping the rewards with a very well put together squad.

    On another note, as a Leeds fan I’m delighted to see Lee Bowyer doing well. He was brilliant at Leeds during our Champions League year and his hard working style was always popular. He was the very definition of a box-to-box midfielder and frankly how he was treated during his trial, particularly not being allowed an England call-up, was beyond a disgrace. Lets not forget he was found innocent of all charges. I'm not saying the lad is perfect, he had misdemeanours when he was young, but he has matured now and its great to see him back and scoring regularly in the Premier League.

  • Comment number 19.

    can't believe no.6 claims that McFadden is not the kind of player you would want in your team?! he's a terrific talent and has been given a run in the team at Birmingham that Davie Moyes never really gave him at Everton and that's one of the reasons that Birmingham are performing so well just now.

    McLeish is doing a great job at Birmingham just now and is getting average players to perform well above themselves (Bowyer, Carr, Ferguson) but it remains to be seen how he deals with a cheque book...
    at the moment does Chucho really look worth 10million?

  • Comment number 20.

    Mcleish doesn't seem to be overly enthusiastic about being active in the January window,all he would probably do is buy a couple of experienced Premier League players and keep them in the PL first and foremost and phase out the 30+ players next season with the cash flowing in.

    The trouble is Yeung meddling in his affairs as he might try to attract some big names to boost the club's image in the Far East which might do more harm than good to the current crop.

    Having said that 5 wins in a row is absolutely amazing and here's hoping he keeps up the good work.

  • Comment number 21.

    An absolutely ridiculous post from Rupert P Matley (#11)... why report or have an opinion on anything until the end of the season. Idiocy.

    Anyway, that ignored, it's great to see us doing so amazingly well. I for one am completely surprised by our performances and results. Having seen us somehow go up last year with a team that finished 2nd only one 2 games by more than a goal, and quite frankly we did not play well enough to go up, this run has really surprised me.

    The fact that it is a very settled and well balanced side is the main reason I think it's working and if you can name a better centre half in the whole Premier League this season than Roger Johnson, I'd like to see him. Outstanding.

    Keep up the good work and invest in a midfielder and a striker in January and all should be well - still think we'll finish about 14th - but will take that every day of the week!

    Keep Right On.

  • Comment number 22.

    Benitez is making a huge difference to the way Birmingham play. He's a great footballing talent: quick, confident on the ball, and direct. He creaes space for his team and is very often available to collect the ball. As a result Birmingham are playing more short passing and the rest of the team are looking bright and confident. Blackburn on the other hand...

  • Comment number 23.

    I actually found this, once again, a very predictable piece. Anyone could tell you that McLeish has done a great job so far this season.

    What about something to enlighten and even surprise us? Surely that's a columnist's job?

  • Comment number 24.

    #23: Nope, that's Birmingham's job. ;)

  • Comment number 25.

    Good blog. Where exactly do you think they will finish? Not so crazy on recent form to imagine them finishing in the top 6 or 8 or 10 even, but I would put a fiver on them finishing above Liverpool. If they don't and you ever make it to the south of France, I will buy you a pint. I think this season what has happened is the teams playing catch up for so long have finally caught up. I cant see Villa fade away like they did last year, nor spurs, and birmingham have a good sqaud as do Sunderland. It will be an interesting January sale this season.
    United Chelsea Villa Arsenal City Spurs Birmingham Fullham and possibly Sunderland and one other to make the top 10 at seasons end, perhaps Blackburn?
    Very refreshing to see and read a blog about 'something else' for a change.

  • Comment number 26.

    You had surprised me at the beginning of the season when you rated Birmingham as potential relegation candidates and Liverpool at the top! Probably prediction is not your thing! Anyway, I think they have a great team with a fine selection of experienced players and a manager that can get the best of any situation

  • Comment number 27.

    As a Birmingham fan its great to see us doing so well and i cant give McLeish enough praise for it. I was a doubter at first as i see English football alot different to Scottish football. But he has shone through so far and if we finish 14th or above this season it will be a massive achievement.
    With Villa doing well, Stoke also holding there own and Wolves with a fighting chance of survival its looking up for Midlands football after the Premier League has been dominated by the London & North West clubs for so long.
    With West Brom, Nottingham Forest & Leicester also pushing for promotion it could be a boom time for Midlands football in the next decade and long may it continue... just aslong as Blues stay above them all and get back into an old habbit of stuffing the Villa once in a while!

  • Comment number 28.

    There are only two managers in the running for the Man Utd job once SAF retires - Mcleish and O'Neill. My money's on Mcleish because of his connections with SAF

  • Comment number 29.

    #18 - Spot on about sticking with a manager. We all know that managers get the sack far too quickly these days, (Darren Ferguson is one of those, I was shocked)
    For example, the liverpool fans are calling for Benitez to get the bullet, but if this happens... who is out there to take over? Not much at the moment anyway. If anything Liverpool overachieved last season with their league position.
    But anyway back on track, This is a great article, praising a great manager. McLeish has been slated in the past for playing 'negative football' but Birmingham have been anything but negative this season, great start for them and I hope they continue their current great form.

  • Comment number 30.

    #19: £10 million?

    Benitez is currently on loan for which Birmingham paid about £1.5m for the season. Assuming he says fit he will be bought then, but the figure is still less than £10m, as for the question 'is he is worth it', as a young South American in his first season in Europe it is looking promising.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 32.

    I was devastated when he left Scotland for the BC job. He was my hero growing up at Aberdeen. I wondered what the attraction is with BC but I think he will use them as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. I do however think next season will be more critical than this, how many teams recently have failed in their second or third season in the EPL

  • Comment number 33.

    well,

    i was at the game last night, its amazing what a little confidence does to a team, after watching ridgewell nutmegging a player followed by quick passing and moving one of the guys near us could be heard shouting " its just like watching brazil".. ok a little sarcasm was probably used, but for years at the blues weve been used to the "lump it forward and run after it" manouvere! so lets hope the new style continues!!
    lets hope they can keep the form up, a point away vs everton will do nicely!!

    and fair play to Mcleish, i gave him a bit of stick last season for the way we played in the championship, and was a little unsure of some of the signings but i'm not complaining now ( yes ok that may be a little fickle!!)
    Up the Blues!

  • Comment number 34.

    Alex McLeish made it very clear last night that he will have the final say over signings in January and it will not simply be a question of chasing marketable names - they must fit in with what he is trying to do.

    I think we all know it is highly unlikely Birmingham will stay in the top six, but there is no reason why they should not receive credit now for what they have done so far this season. Why wait until the end of the season?

    And those who are quick to link Birmingham with teams who have suffered after good starts to life in the Premier League - the difference is that they will have big money to spend to try to maintain their position.

  • Comment number 35.

    National media catch up and realise Birmingham can't be ignored now. About time. Eck is doing a fantastic job on limited resources. If you want to know what's really going on at the Blues, go here http://blogs.birminghammail.net/birminghamcity/

  • Comment number 36.

    Nice blog Phil - I think Birmingham look a good team this season but could do with more firepower up front. Someone like Santa Cruz would be ideal for them (what a wonderful signing for City / move for Santa Cruz that has proved to be!).

    ALSO CAN PEOPLE PLEASE STOP WHINGING AT PHIL WHATEVER HE WRITES??! It's getting boring. When he writes about the top four he gets accused of 'being predictable' and now he writes about Birmingham he gets accused of 'being predictable' too (23. aka TommySmith). Surely Phil's aim is to provoke debate? If you don't like it, don't read it again (or bore us all with your complaining).

    Alternatively, you could go to the kindergarten version of these blogs instead - 606 debate (I've never seen so many smileys in my life). I was particularly amused with its link on United's match report last night:

    606: DEBATE
    "Shame really as Wolves' first team would have won - United were poor"
    Indo

    It's amazing what a difference an away win at Spurs does to a fans belief!

  • Comment number 37.

    Phil, Good Blog but why do you believe that they can't make the top six? What they have going for them is continuity and now with the money that they have anything can happen especially if they buy well in January and remain consistent. This Birmingham team can beat anybody. Bolton made it to sixth sometime ago and i can't bet against Birmingham making it too.

  • Comment number 38.

    Thank you very much Phil, for shining a bit of light onto Birminghams recent achievements.

    Although I will agree a 6th place finish is a lot to ask for, I will press the fact that for the first time in many years, Birmingham City fans feel confident going into any game.

    As for Birmingham being set up for second season syndrome, I don't think two young and phenomally talented centre backs, a potential second season with Joe Hart in between the sticks, a wealth of seasoned Premier League players and a January/Summer window transfer kitty of 60-80 million is the normal platform for a poor second season. But of course, I'm going to be biased, aren't I!

  • Comment number 39.

    Not really interested in bun fights, although I must agree that leaving all comments until the end of the season would please my other half at least. She say's there's far too much gob wobbling over football every week as it stands!

    Talking about the end of the season, the real question should be - "How many PL clubs will be able to say they had a 5 game winning run?" Top marks to all concerned. Fingers crossed for the right result against Everton and who knows..............?

    Like others on here, I also believe Birmingham will drift slightly, perhaps to a mid table slot. I just wonder how many of the McLeish knockers of last season expected that? He's doing a great job and let's hope things continue in the same vein. We know there's a few tricky games coming up so to me it's all about holding our nerves and not baying for the Manager's blood at the first sign of a wobble.

    Having said that, I must agree that next season is another matter, and that there may be something in the aging squad comments. However, that's next year, so for now it's good to see Birmingham doing so well and pretty much bolted on for PL footy for the forseable.







  • Comment number 40.

    When McLeish was Rangers manager, too few recognised that his managerial performance statistics were better than O'Neills at Celtic. It is good to see him doing well. He surprised me with how well he did in charge of Rangers, especially bearing in mind he was working with very little money, but following his achievements at Ibrox and in his short time as Scotland manager, it should be no surprise to anyone that he is showing what a good manager he is in the EPL.

  • Comment number 41.

    Can I say I have no objection to the idea of Birmingham finishing in the top six, but I think that will be beyond them this season. McLeish would be a candidate for manager of the year if he did that.

    The big bonus will be Birmingham's power to invest. Carson Yeung has promised funds for transfer market activity and McLeish has provided the perfect platform to do that.

    Do Birmingham fans think McLeish should press to make goalkeeper Joe Hart's transfer permanent? I cannot believe he would want to go back to Eastlands and play second fiddle to Shay Given.

  • Comment number 42.

    Phil,

    Great blog and I echo some of the sentiments on here about it being nice to read about the "smaller" clubs in the Prem.

    I think what is important to remember is that Birmingham City have been taken over by people that are actually willing to spend some money on a team in order to keep it in the top flight and then, hopefully, build year in year out to achieve success.

    Whilst 2nd season syndrome is always a worry and the Blues squad contains a number of players in the twilights of their careers, the owners seem hellbent on making this club a force to be wreckoned with. I have no doubt that McLeish will bring in the right players... Like he says, he's not going to bring in a disruptive "big name" but instead, focus on players to fit in with the current squad. I see somebody along the same lines as a Damian Duff type player (great buy for Fulham)who will work hard, add a bit of premiership quality yet not class himself as "above" other players.

    West Ham are really struggling and Matthew Upson could be a great signing for the Blues to help develop the obvious potential of Dann and Johnson.

    The point here is that Birmingham have options to build on the current performances where others (Reading etc) simply haven't had in years gone by.

    Good luck Birmingham

  • Comment number 43.

    Great Blog Phil.

    I have to admit i had my doubts about big Eck, watching us bore our way to promotion last year was an insomniacs dream. However our recent performances have been outstanding the new board has come in and given everyone a lift and there seems to be a real buzz of optomism around the place at the moment.

    Scott Dann and in particular Roger Johnson have been phenominal signings and Chucho has given Blues something we haven't had in a few years now, whether he is worth £10 million who knows? he is quick prepared to pick up the ball and have a go at defences making him exciting to watch. Big Eck seems to be getting the best out of everyone at the moment we all know it probably won't last, but the foundations have now been laid for survival this season and with the promised investment in the squad in January and the summer, then there is no reson we can't finish mid table this season or even slightly higher.

    Im glad the focus of an article has been taken off the usual suspects for once and recognised and genuinly fantastic achievement. Like all long sufferring Blues fans im sure some of us remain a little bit pessamistic when it comes to how the rest of the season will turn out for us, but nobody will disagree that there is the elemant of excitement at the moment and it does seem that things definately are looking up for the future.

    A big well done to big Eck and all the players.

  • Comment number 44.

    I don't think Joe Hart has put a foot wrong for Birmingham, I can't see him wanting a move back to Man City because as you said Shay Given is obviously going to be the first choice keeper. For me Hart is an established premier league goalkeeper, in terms of having enough experience especially for his age.

    Lee Bowyer & Barry Ferguson are running the show at the moment for Birmingham and I think McLeish will build the team around them. What do you think Phil?

  • Comment number 45.

    Credit to Birmingham, but the last 5 victories were against some fairly poor opposition. Will be interested to see how they fair against stiffer opposition.

  • Comment number 46.

    I highly doubt we will be top 6 or even 8 this season. 10-13 should be the target still, considering we were hoping to finish top 17 this is a fantastic place to be mid-season.

    Indeed Phil I doubt you'll find one Bluenose that doesn't want to see Joe Hart remain at Blues - he's happy here and his performances have been excellent. He does have much to learn but at a young age is a great performer while still a solid prospect. Defense has been excellent although an out-and-out left back would do us wonders - Bale has been touted which personally I like the sound of a lot. A creative midfielder is another position we have looked at, but who do we drop when Ferguson has been so pivotal and Bowyer has been scoring so many goals? I'll take a striker to supplement/pressure Chucho/Jerome.

    Happy times for us Noses. KRO.

  • Comment number 47.

    Alex has done a fantastic job as has his assistant Roy Aitken, what would liverpool give for their consistancy right now, we might find out if benitez doesnt sort things out, Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer have been rightly criticised in the past for wrong doings, they dont have a point to prove or ammends to make, they are simply producing the performances that they are capable of and getting paid well for it

  • Comment number 48.

    ...Forgot to say, great blog, always like reading phil's blogs and not the rubbish that Chick Young and Johnathan Pearce manage to tripe out

  • Comment number 49.

    I think he should push to make Hart's move permanent. Hart could never play for Man City unless Given gets injured which is a rarity. Taylor though is a pretty decent back up as well. Have to say though Birmingham's backline is pretty solid and impressive and while people were slating MUFC to struggle to get that 1-0 in the beginning of the season over them, you can all see that they are a very determined and composed group of players.
    Chucho has been pretty unlucky not to score more goals and for me has a similar finish to Heskey but with a lot more pace and passion. And Jerome is slowly changing from a championship striker to an EPL one.

  • Comment number 50.

    Nice to see an article on birmingham Phil, but as is the case with so many london journalists, the knowledge of lesser teams sorts out the best journalists (jonathan pearce strikes me as very savvy) from the rest. Its nice covering us but at least make it seem like you know what you are on about!

    Talking about players who have been at big clubs (bowyer, carr, ferguson) is typical but players like cameron jerome, seb larsson, liam ridgewell, keith fahey are all players who have come on under AM.

    Benitez is a good acquisition for 2 reasons. One, he has pace, which we lack apart from jerome, and two it means we cant just lump balls forward as he wont win anything in the air, forcing us to play proper football.

    The defence looks very lighweight, none have a real sol campbell-like presence or are imposing, but they put their bodies on the line and get the job done and there seems to be a fantastic team spirit. A lot of people were calling for his head after getting us relegated in our first season (me included) as we had some very good players(like forssell, zarate, amongs others) and was a huge opportunity missed. But he seems to be warming to the job and the fans seem happy. Just don't go mad in january!

  • Comment number 51.

    I have a feeling that this is all a bit premature and possibly piles more pressure on a team that has been going about its business with very little fuss and great efficiency so far. When players and managers start getting plaudits it can take their eye of the ball, so to speak.

    Despite this I have to admire McLeish. He did a fantastic job at Rangers, with very little credit might I add. This has been proven by the managers who have taken over after him at a team that has gone very quickly down hill both in terms of quality and style of play (this is also considering the financial problems which have existed since Advocaat).

    Like others I worry about Eck's knowledge of the level of the transfer market that he will now be engaging in. Its a different ball game playing the domestic markets and looking abroad. He needs to have a very definite style of play in mind and to stick to it rather than trying to 'flower up' his team. I dread to think what a Martinez or Mowbray would do with this type of money, within a club such as Birmingham.

    Just a point for Birmingham fans. Do you think the money would be better spent on infrastructure, i.e. academies, stadia, facilities etc rather than extensively on the playing staff? A couple of good solid players each season to keep you in the EPL, and build for the future. I have no idea how deep Mr Yeung's pockets are but to my knowledge they don't extend to Abu Dhabi proportions. If it was me I'd be hoping for sound behind the scenes investment rather than the unexpected signing of 'fancy dans' from all around South America. Although, as an Arsenal fan I would say this

  • Comment number 52.

    The Birmingham story has come out of nowhere compared with the Hull city story last year. They've got a decent squad with the established premier league players like Bowyer and Carr and the championship players they bought such as Johnson have come good so far. However, i can see a Hull city-type scenario happening when the teams they play against will become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and they'll start slipping down the table. Also, the players playing out of their skin at the moment such as Bowyer can't carry that kind of form through the season. That's unless BCFC buy more quality during January, but then again this could also disturb a side in good form and unsettle the squad. If things go their way though and they're shrewd with their signings, we could see another Ipswich Town scenario where they sneak into the Europa league. Who knows.

  • Comment number 53.

    #52 - I don't see why Bowyer and Ferguson, Can't continue their good form... Because of age? As we have been proven before (Giggs, Henrik Larsson) This shouldn't be the case, the midfield is as strong as ever in my opinion, so why not use this as an excuse to build around it.

  • Comment number 54.

    i can see them ending up around 10th. the top 7 is a no brainer, past that i fancy sunderland and fulham getting ahead of birmingham. sunderland have two great strikers and fulham have been building at prem level for a few seasons now. even 10th would be a massive season for birmingham though.

  • Comment number 55.

    Great blog Phil, it's great for someone to finally acknowledge the great job that Alex Mcleish has done. Also I think you sum up the current feel at Birmingham and where the club is going.

    But, to move onto the Joe Hart issue that you mentioned earlier, I think he would be a fantastic signing as I have no doubt he will be the future England keeper.

    Big Eck will probably do his absolute utmost to keep hold of him and I think Joe will want to stay for sure as he seems to have grown already as a player at the Blues.

    However, the major stumbling block will be Mark Hughes, who rightly won't want to let go of such a talent. My hope as a Blues fan is that he'll give in to the player and do what is definitely right for a young keeper's career.

  • Comment number 56.

    To Greenst...Lee Bowyer and Barry Ferguson will be very important this season. They will provide the experience and have things to prove. Bowyer will want to prove he has still got the goods at Premier League level - and he is doing so very nicely indeed.

    Ferguson will want to show some people (people like me actually) who thought he could not cope with the pace and the tempo of the Premier League after a disappointing spell at Blackburn.

    And to poster 45 Spoonmehead...bit of a killjoy there. Five wins is a great run, no matter who it is against. Credit where credit is due.

  • Comment number 57.

    Is it only a coincidence that they started winning after Yeung declared he would invest £40 Million in January? Maybe the players realised that if they do not play well they can easily be disposed of and replaced, it possibly gave them a kick up the backside? Just a thought.

  • Comment number 58.

    #45 How will Birmingham fair against stiffer opposition?

    Cast your mind back 7 games where Liverpool's N'Gog had to resort to diving to rescue a point for Liverpool following Jerome's goal of the month, shortly followed by an unlucky draw against Manchester City. At the time these results were predictably written off due to under-performing star players and injury crises, maybe we should go back and give Birmingham some credit for two well earned points.

  • Comment number 59.

    RE:56 - Ferguson will want to show some people (people like me actually) who thought he could not cope with the pace and the tempo of the Premier League after a disappointing spell at Blackburn.


    Ferguson was captain of Blackburn and the only reason his career there was cut short was a horrific injury when playing against Newcastle, there was talk up here in Scotland that Newcastle and Everton were looking at him..how can that be classed as disappointing?

  • Comment number 60.

    Birmingham have been a revelation this season. They don't have anything like the quality of the teams around them, but Alex McLeish has got them playing as a unit, covering for one another, hunting in packs and grinding out results week after week. It'll be interesting to see if he can spend the £40 Million in January wisely, although the chances are he'll be looking for players of the right character above all else. In many ways he reminds me of George Graham in all his pomp at Arsenal.

    One other thing: The reserved and dignified way he conducted himself after Liverpool had so disgracefully cheated them out of victory at Anfield should be made compulsory viewing for all the prima donna managers (including, sadly, our own Mr Wenger) who are so quick to pass the buck when things go wrong on the pitch. McLeish is a credit to their club.

  • Comment number 61.

    A bit early for the type of recognition.

    And McCleish's biggest strengths are in getting the basics right. He made Rangers hard to beat in a league where victories come easy where as in Europe he lacked the guile to play the right tactics. Two one off victories against France don't provide too much evidence with regards to how good a manager is.

    I think Birmingham will be towards the bottom. I can't see McCleish taking Birmingham even to the next level which would be mid table.

  • Comment number 62.

    big eck has done wonders at motherwell, hibs, rangers and scotland . all on limited resources / budgets !
    he trained under fergie and stayed at aberdeen his whole career , the last decent side to challenge rangers and celtic for scottish title . not sure why he never moved south as a player ?
    he will do a amazing job for birmingham and then move on i guess to man U . fergie told him to take that job , and no doubt told him if he does well he can move up .....then again maybe with the money now , he can challenge them !!!!


  • Comment number 63.

    big eck only managed one victory against france in france . walter was the other !

  • Comment number 64.

    pleeeeeeeeeeeeease come back to scotland, your nation needs you :(

    and btw what is a wag? surely used as it was in this blog it cant mean wife and girlfriend?

    and on a related topic whats a wum? always see that in 606

  • Comment number 65.

    Re: 61 - 'ya_dafty'

    I'm guessing by the quality of your post that your name wasn't that hard to come by!

    I'm sure most Managers would strive to get the 'basics right' first and foremost. Despite winning 7 trophies in 4.5 years at Rangers, having (statistically speaking) the best Scotland Managerial record in their history and guiding Birmingham to promotion at the 1st attempt and 6th place in the league just now, you would appear to be saying McLeish hasn't got what it takes.

    He's been a manager for over 15 years now, so your comment about it being a 'bit early for that recognition' smacks of ignorance and idiocy. Throw in getting Motherwell to their best ever league position of 3rd and winning the First Division with Hibs, a cup final and Europe in their first season back in the Premier, I think it's only right the guy recieves the recognition he so thoroughly deserves.

    We are quick to put people down in this country so let's celebrate success rather than try to shoot them down.

  • Comment number 66.

    #53- I didn't say they wouldn't be able to carry on their form throughout the season because of their age, i meant it is impossible to sustain match-winning form over 38 games. When they stop playing well, the wins will dry up. Also injuries and suspensions might take their toll.

  • Comment number 67.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 68.

    #9

    Spot on! We (Ipswich) spent very unwisely and sunk without trace in the second season. What happened afterwards is well documented. BC just need a couple of experienced Premiership players to cement their position and push on from there. Any splashing out on unproven or proven over age players tends to end in tears - remember Finidi George? And yes it still galls the amount of money splashed out on him and others in the second season!

    Good blog Phil

  • Comment number 69.

    Collie21;
    "United Chelsea Villa Arsenal City Spurs Birmingham Fullham and possibly Sunderland and one other to make the top 10 at seasons end, perhaps Blackburn?"

    So you reckon Liverpool will finish in the bottom half?

  • Comment number 70.

    I am a rarity, a Bluenose who saw the impediment to back Mcleish from the off. I pleaded with the outgoing board to back him, not just pay lip service to it. They were looking elswhere fed up because Blues fans were 'ungrateful'. WE all know of our great clubs potential, we were frustrated because they did not.

    What has changed ?? Positive messages, at the club, all around the ground. Phil, great blog, a real understanding of football,but dont forget Mr Yeung paid £81m for 'unsafhionable' Brum? Why ? Because they know a bargain when they see it. Mcleish can unleash (the club) forgive the pun ) because he has someone who seems to want to back him.

    Top six, not this season, but keep backing Mcleish and who knows? The club does not have to service huge debts and the wind of change that will cause has started.

  • Comment number 71.

    For Birmingham read Reading....

    --------

    Hardly.

    Birmingham have spent something like 60 seasons in the top flight. Reading have spent, what, 2 seasons in the top flight?





  • Comment number 72.

    As an older Aberdeen supporter I'm always interested in the two Alex's team scores and look for them every week. (Even last year in the championship). A question for anyone when was the last time a team from out with the "Top Four" won 5 in a row in the premiership? Maybe it is not that unusual but seams like a great achievement to me, keep it up big yin.

  • Comment number 73.

    Happy to see the well deserved praise being given to Alex and i myself have long admired his dignity and recall too clearly the nonsense abuse he got from rangers fans when trying to steer them in times of storm due to the serious money problems. He held his head up with much dignity and grace. One point seems to of not got too much attention in previous comments,that being that i believe that the raised spirit and moral within the team has come with the departure of what many would feel was the bad smell of the previous owners who constantly caused discord and ill feeling. Even with the disgusting way they spoke of the new owners when the original deal fell through. Their choice of words and constant blaming was only ever going to cause bad feeling and dismay within the club and them leaving seems to feel as though a very bad smell has gone with them. No real blues fan is getting carried away with our recent success im sure,and some of the negative comments made here are overlooking that we dont expect anymore at this stage in our development as a club. If we slide to 16th even then its still a decent first year and we can build from there. But still long may this run continue. Carson Yeung was slandered brutaly by the old board and he took that with much grace and dignity and did not get involved in mud slinging. I hope that he is feeling good now and cant help but notice the revulsion that the fans of clubs that the old board have shown interest in taking over express. And they are right the old board was appaling. Not so much for there efforts but more for the bad feeling they created everytime they opened there mouth. The place was bound to feel a better place after they went. It is not lost on me that they rescued us from near oblivion all those years ago, but they left the club under a cloud of bad feeling. Show them Carson what dignity is and i pity the next club they move into.

  • Comment number 74.

    Would Joe Hart want to go back to City ?
    If he wants a crack at being the England keeper for the World Cup then he should stay put and I think he will.

    I would pick him as first choice keeper for England.
    Take David James as an experienced old head in case Hart gets injured, and either Foster or Green as the back up and challenger for the future.

    It all starts at the back, if you have a good keepe and a solid defence at least you are in with a shout.

    Full credit to McLeish, he has done a great job so far, but I agree Phil, I can't see them still being in the top 6 come May. I think they will be in the top half but top 6 will be beyond them unless some seriously big and talented names arrive in January.

    5 wins on the bounce is fantastic in anyone's book, so credit where credit is due. Hats off to Alex and his lads.

  • Comment number 75.

    Phil,

    I have to say I think McLeish has done a wonderful job at Birmingham, and it just shows that the standard in the Premier League is very even apart from about 6 teams. So Stringing a few wins together and you find yourself in a loft league position.

    This was the same as Hull City last season but, how long is it before Birmingham results take a turn for the worse and the media start shooting McLeish down?

    Fair play to him though, doing a fantastic job and long may it continue, him and Owen Coyle are presently showing that it's far from impossible to keep a newly promoted side in the Premier League.

  • Comment number 76.

  • Comment number 77.

    phil

    it is indeed great to see the blues up with the big boys. we bues fans are long and suffering and i have to say i have started to look forward to seeing the results on a saturday. i was a unconvinced about Mcliesh after the love in we had with steve bruce and the complete mess that the last takeover attempt left us in.
    i hope we get a 2 or 3 quality signings in january and no doubt the league position will assist greatly in this. i am sure we will falter but premiership survival is only 5 wins away.
    if we can win at everton i am sure chelsea will be taking us seriously on boxing day. long may this positive team spirit continue and well done to alex mcliesh. you have made a lot of blue noses very happy for christmas.

  • Comment number 78.

    #28 O'Neil or Mcleish the only names to replace Ferguson?

    Don't be silly, Mourinho wants that job something silly.

  • Comment number 79.

    And I'd love to see that. I almost hope Ferguson resigns at the end of this season to give us the best chance of getting him.

  • Comment number 80.

    Hi Phil.

    Its my first post on here after reading a number of your blogs for many weeks now.

    Thanks for giving coverage to the "other" sides in the Premier League, and while i don't always agree with everything you say, like others reading too, its good to read praise and positivity on things going on at other clubs outside of the top four that seem to be the total fatuation of much of the media.

    I am a Birmingham fan, but equally a fan of football in general. I think its great this season that the league is more competitive and that the newly promoted sides are having a good go at being positive to stay up. So many times in the previous seasons, i've seen my own team and others who've gained promotion, go out and just play sterile football, as a result of negative team selections and tactics that are governed by the fear of losing.

    It's never nice to just watch your team go through an entire season going through the motions of a eventual relegation..

    This season, i don't think my team, Burnley or our local rivals Wolves can be accused of going into every game with the mindset of just "parking the bus" and hoping for the right breaks to come along to get the points in the bag. As a fan, you can't ask for more, that your team goes out, has a go and gives their all..... you can't look back with regret and get annoyed that your team were not positive enough.

    I think Mcleish and the players have truly done wonders this season considering how unsettling the summer was for everyone connected with the club and especially the lack of funds given to the manager to strengthen an already depleted squad.

    As biased as i am to my beloved Blues, long may our form, and our positive season continue. I hope we can survive this season regardless of our fantastic points tally so far. Equally it would be a breathe of fresh air this season if all the promoted sides from last season can actually stay up and show, that you can survive in this league with the right approach, good management and limited funds.



  • Comment number 81.

    "Ferguson was captain of Blackburn and the only reason his career there was cut short was a horrific injury when playing against Newcastle"

    Hmmm. A fractured kneecap, whilst obviously unpleasant, is the kind of injury a player will surely always recover from.

    I'm afraid it doesn't quite explain to me why Blackburn were willing to make a £3.5 million loss on Ferguson just over a year after buying him.

  • Comment number 82.

    Dear Phil,

    You have written sensible, balanced stuff my friend.

    I shall be keeping the sports pages of wednesday 16-12-09 from The Times and Guardian for my scrap book along with #3, The Times article by Peter Lansley contained some marvelously evocative historical foot notes about the last time we won 5 on the trot in the big time, way back in 1973! his only mistake was to claim we beat Fulham on saturday 12-12-09 when it was in fact West Ham. But hey aside from my pedantry these are great times for Birmingham City football club and the fans.

    I would like to publically thank all the players and big Ec here and now for being blooming heros in every game since that rip roarer at Anfield when we was robbed by a diving cheat. Please note we are also nearing the top of the fair play league also :)


    We will journey on, LA LA LA,

    KRO.......

    From a very proud ZuluTriad Blue noser

 

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