Birmingham City 2016/17: The Final Eight (Part One)

We’re entering the crunch stage of the 2016/17 season and Blues have just eight games remaining to ensure that they accumulate enough points that will guarantee them their Championship status.

Gianfranco Zola’s side sit just five points above the relegation zone and face a tough run-in. We’ve gone from a season that had potential under Gary Rowett to one that has turned into a disaster since Zola took over in December.

The idea that Zola could somehow turn us into a free-flowing possession side that could score goals for fun clearly hasn’t gone to plan. In fact, we’ve reverted back to a style that served us so well under Rowett.

It’s now or never for Blues. We’re somehow in a situation where relegation is a definite possibility and it’s up to Zola and the players to get us out of this mess in the final eight fixtures.

Let’s take a look at what Blues have to face over the final weeks of the season, beginning on Saturday with the trip to Ipswich Town:

Ipswich A (1/4)

The first of this final run of fixtures sees us travel to Portman Road to take on Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich side, who are also in danger of relegation. They sit on the same amount of points as Blues (45) so this could be a significant game. They are in a strange run of form with just one win in 12, but they have also only lost just three of those games. It will be tough for Blues to get all three points against a team that may not have the firepower, but do have the gritty determination to snatch points out of games. The other teams down the bottom have some tricky games on this date so a point for Blues could be extremely valuable.

Prediction: 1-1

Brighton A (4/4)

A trip to face the team that inflicted the first defeat of Zola’s reign as manager in his first game comes just a few days after the Ipswich game. Chris Hughton’s side scored with virtually the last kick of the game to win on that occasion but I can see it being a lot more straightforward for them this time around. Brighton are one of the best teams in the division and will most likely secure automatic promotion to the Premier League. They are also a force to be reckoned with at home and it will be a bonus if Blues take anything away from the AMEX.

Prediction: 2-0 Brighton

Derby H (8/4)

The return of Gary Rowett to St Andrew’s. It’s pretty embarrassing for us that the manager that should never have been sacked could turn out to have a part to play in us potentially being relegated. Taking over Derby will pose a different sort of task for him than when he took over a Blues side sitting in 23rd place. They have an array of talented players that will cause any team problems but Rowett will also ensure that they get the basics of playing football right. Hopefully Blues themselves can stay organised and nullify the attacking threat of Derby to hold out for at least a point.

Prediction: 1-1

Rotherham A (14/4)

Blues travel to the New York Stadium on Good Friday in the start of an Easter weekend that could define our season. With Rotherham being bottom of the league by some distance, it’s a game that Blues should look at to realistically gain maximum points from. We haven’t been used to winning games under Zola but that winning formula needs to be found and this is a game where it all needs to click for Blues. With other tricky games coming up, it’s vital that we take something from this game and across the course of that weekend that sees numerous teams at the bottom face each other. I’m hoping that this is the game Blues finally win again under Zola but I can see it being a tight one where Blues just come out on top.

Prediction: 2-1 Blues

If Blues pick up the five points that I have predicted from these next four games, then that should be enough to keep us safe. One more win in the four remaining games after that should secure it.

Stay tuned for Part Two over the next week or so where I will take a look at the final four fixtures of our season which includes the small matter of a trip to face Aston Villa in the Second City derby.

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Is time up for Gianfranco Zola at Birmingham City?

Two wins out of 17, 19 points off the play-offs and now just eight points above the relegation zone. Not quite the outcome the Birmingham City owners imagined when they appointed Gianfranco Zola back in December.

Blues are now in a relegation scrap, there’s no hiding that. If fans hadn’t made their mind up about the Italian before, then last nights defeat to relegation-threatened Wigan surely did that for them.

The club made it clear a few weeks ago that Zola was their man and that they were going to stick behind him. But surely we have got to the point now where his position is untenable? We have seen some glimpses of what Zola has been brought in to do. The football, at times, has been impressive but it has also been pretty dire as well and even when we have played well, results haven’t followed. Ultimately, football is about getting results and Zola is proving to us all that he is incapable of doing that.

In a league where it can’t get any more nitty-gritty, Blues have capitulated on several occasions and we haven’t seen any improvement on an ever growing problem under Zola- defending. Only Rotherham, who sit rock bottom of the Championship, have a worse goal difference than Blues. Hard to imagine given that we were so solid under Gary Rowett.

We are past the point where decent performances are a sign of the team improving under Zola. We struggle to score goals, we concede too many and some of the displays have been pitiful. Those who had to witness last nights shambles would back me up in saying that, although there have been a few positive signs under Zola, nothing is there to show that we are moving in a forward direction. In fact, we couldn’t move further away from the right direction if we tried. As the games continue to tick by and the defeats rack up, it will only be a matter of time before we get within touching distance of the bottom three. We should have enough to avoid relegation but we can’t take that risk. A lot of people are likening this current period to Lee Clark’s time at Blues and they’re not wrong. The points we picked up under Rowett in the first half of the season are the only thing saving us from being in the relegation zone.

Zola is showing no tactical nous, no knowledge of how to win a game when it matters most and the time has come for him to admit defeat. There’s no doubting that he’s a decent guy and he has shown his passion for the club in recent weeks but as a manager, he has been dreadful.I’m struggling to see where the next win will come from to be honest. When you can’t pick up a result from a game as crucial as the one against Wigan last night, then the fixtures coming up against Cardiff, Newcastle, Ipswich and Brighton give us no hope whatsoever.

You’ve had your chance Gianfranco, but I’m afraid time is up. It’s time for the TTA and Panos Pavlakis to admit their mistake, move on quickly from this travesty and look to cement our Championship status. I didn’t think I’d be saying that a few months ago but that is where we have got to. Where do we go from Zola? Do we go internal with Richard Beale or even Robbo? Those two together could be an option but it’s a a tough one. We’re in a relegation dogfight and the first step is to let Zola go. Either that or he has to walk. Whichever way, it’s time for Zola to wave goodbye to his time at Blues.

David Davis: The man well and truly cementing himself in Birmingham City history

When he was signed from local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers back in the Lee Clark days, I don’t think anyone anticipated the part that David Davis would go on to play in the Birmingham City team.

He arrived at St Andrew’s after falling out of favour under Kenny Jackett at Wolves and played just 18 games in their League One title campaign. Clark took a gamble, to say the least, but it was a low risk one and one he had to take following the departure of Tom Adeyemi.

Blues barely paid a penny for Smethwick-born Davis (a reported £150,000) and, it’s fair to say, they are now reaping the rewards with that fee proving to be a steal.

Workaholic

The 26-year-old is your typical English midfielder, if you like- hardworking, physical and tenacious. He might not have outstanding technical ability but having watched him from the beginning at Blues, he has definitely worked on that part of his game and improved.

It’s key that we focus on the way Davis has improved his game because it’s clear that he has knuckled down both in training but also individually in pre-season to ensure he has an advantage over his opponents. Davis’ place in the side was never really nailed down, particularly midway through Gary Rowett’s reign. But, his willingness to adapt and work hard for the team meant that he was trusted by the former manager to do a job in a wide positon that would enable him to protect his full back and maintain a solid defensive foundation.

It was, by no means, perfect because it meant that Blues lost a bit of attacking edge and I’m sure that Davis himself would’ve preferred a more central role. That’s where you get to see him at his best, in the heart of the midfield. Since Gianfranco Zola arrived at the club, Davis has slotted straight back into a central midfield positon and hasn’t been moved since. You wouldn’t expect a player like Davis to fit the Zola mould but the Italian made it clear form day one that Davis is crucial to the team going forward and rewarded him with a new contract not long ago. Blues fans only really ask for 110% and if you give that, then there can’t really be any complaints. Davis gives that every time he sets foot onto the pitch and leaves every single ounce of effort for that 90 minute spell throughout the match.

Derby Day heroics

If Davis hadn’t already endeared himself into the hearts of the St Andrew’s faithful then his exploits against both Aston Villa and former club Wolves did just that. It would be an understatement to say that Davis turns up for the big games. He is a local lad who understands the importance of derby matches and he is a player that epitomises the spirit and ‘never say die’ attitude of Birmingham City. Davis gets what it means to pull on that shirt and represent the Blue side of Birmingham.

His goals against Villa and Wolves provided us with moments that we certainly won’t forget in a hurry and his celebrations only added to his heroic status as a Blues player. He has been known to be slightly wild when shooting at goal previously but, in the heat of the moment, he produced two expert finishes when it mattered most. He currently has four goals to his name this season which is already his best ever total and he might not be finished yet- a certain Second City derby at Villa Park is just around the corner.

Driving force

Davis is the engine in the Birmingham City midfield and the engine just doesn’t seem to stop. His sheer strength and athleticism gives him a huge advantage over his opponents and it’s very rare that you’ll see him get pushed off the ball. If ever there’s a ball to be won, you’d back Davis to come out on top and spring back up onto his feet to fight for the next ball to be won.

There’s no hiding out on a football pitch and you quickly get found out if you’re not pulling your weight or performing to your potential. There have been many occasions where Davis has misplaced a pass or given the ball away but it’s his hunger and desire to win it back that makes him so crucial to the team. As I said, he isn’t the most technically gifted but his passion and love for the game certainly shines through above all. You could see when he first joined Blues that his game was based on hard work and energy but he didn’t always see games through. Indeed, as stated previously, he has had to work extremely hard to get into tip top shape that now allows him to play at maximum potential all game and it is that extra bit of strength and added drive that gives him the edge over others. As a midfielder in the Championship, Davis pretty much has it all.

Player of the season?

It’s been a very strange season for us Blues fans with the whole Rowett/Zola change and the season hasn’t quite turned out for the better. However, Davis is someone who has performed consistently throughout and, if he has a bad game technically, always makes up for it with his willingness to work and harass opponents. In my opinion, he has definitely been the best performer for us so far this season and it’s extremely encouraging to know that you’re always going to get a performance from him. And, to be fair to Davis, he is very good with the ball at his feet now and seems to be getting better game by game at controlling the midfield and dictating play.

It’s got to the point where, if Davis is missing for a game, the team really miss him and it just proves how vital he is to the side. The fans love him at St Andrew’s and it’s clear why. Let’s just hope he continues to perform at a high level, remains at Blues for years to come and creates many more moments like those against Villa and Wolves.