I don’t get why there’s a certain amount of Blues fans are seemingly so desperate for the side to push for promotion this season, who view progress this season only in terms of reaching the play-offs. The only thing that would happen if we went up with this sort of squad is that we’d get sent straight back down. In fact that wouldn’t be the only thing that would happen; we’d be sent straight back down and we would have a good chance of replicating the sort of record Derby County of 2007/08 fame managed to ‘achieve’ the last time they were in the top flight. Call me unambitious but that doesn’t sound like fun.
If by some miracle we were promoted it is obvious the squad would need a massive overhaul. But despite the eye-wateringly tight grip of austerity the club was under a year or two ago being relaxed I don’t imagine we would have the finance to do it, and I don’t think the club’s infrastructure is anywhere near where it needs to be to support a Premier League club right now. I am more than happy with staying in this division and building slowly.
Another tenth place finish would be fine by me. In fact finishing lower than tenth in the table would be no real hardship if we look like were are playing good football and going in the right direction. I think we somewhat overachieved last season; in particular an unbelievable spell of form when Gary Rowett first came in as manager probably overinflated the points total we ordinarily would have achieved and possibly gave us a bit of a false league position, especially given how tight it was in the middle of last season’s Championship table.
And whilst the quality of the squad hasn’t regressed I don’t think we’ve massively strengthened this summer; I don’t think we are markedly stronger than we were when we finished the season in May. I look at the teams who will in all probability be up at the top of the table; your Derbys, your Boros and your Burnleys, and I don’t think we are near that level. Likewise I look at some of the teams who could be scrapping about at the wrong end of the division; sides such as Rotherham, Charlton and the MK Dons and I think that we are still a step or two above them.
A lot of the Championship is a much of a muchness, so it could be argued that a lot of teams (including Blues) could end up anywhere. What we maybe lack is strength in depth. For example up front we are too over reliant on Clayton Donaldson. Behind him, and we have Lee Novak who has never, ever looked like cutting it when he’s played as an out and out striker in a Blues shirt. But Gary Rowett seems totally reluctant to give Wes Thomas any role of substance in the squad whatsoever which I disagree with because for all his faults Wes does offer raw pace, energy and power when he plays. We could do with a poacher, a proper fox in the box; rumours that we are after Dwight Gayle seems like Walt Disney talk, the sort of talk that could make a BCFC Follower look a bit daft if he or she espoused it. But I’m sure Gary Rowett could do with that style of player, if not someone with the pedigree (or pay packet) of Gayle.
Behind the one up top that Gary Rowett always plays, the likes of Dimmy Gray, David Cotterill and Andy Shinnie should be the same as ever, and Jacques Maghoma has been brought in as cover whilst Koby Arthur looks like he may get more of a chance in the side than he’s had before. The darling of Stan’s last season though was undoubtedly Diego Fabbrini; the Italian loanee’s flair excited the Blues fans every time they saw it. But for all his skill I did feel he lacked an end product at times; fur coat, but no knickers if you like. Jon Toral on loan from Arsenal, from what little I saw of him at home to Leicester in Saturday’s friendly, seems to have all the tricks and flicks that could excite Blues fas as much as Diego did. But whilst we will have the ability to create chances, whether we have the forwards who will be able to put them away is another matter.
For me out of the four loanees who were prominent for Blues at the end of last season (Robs Kiernan and Tesche, Fabbrini and Lloyd Dyer) the one whose departure has left by far the biggest hole in the team is the little German Tesche. For me he was mustard, one of the best players I’ve seen at Blues since we came down from the Premier League in 2011 and I’m still disappointed it now looks like that after a considerable amount of time trying he won’t be joining permanently. Dutch Mike from Groningen looked OK enough against Leicester and comes with a very good pedigree, but we’ll miss Tesche regardless. It looks like Dutch Mike will be first choice in the heart of the Blues midfield, but who is going to partner him? Reece Brown got a game or two in a deeper lying role in pre season, but for all his ability he still looks short of experience or physical toughness at times; he really could do with going out on loan and playing week in week out if he’s not going to do it any time soon. So that leaves Stephen Gleeson and David Davis; Gleeson looks like getting the nod right now, but for me it should be Davis. DD provides energy, aggression and a defensive acumen Gleeson doesn’t and I think he passes the ball adequately despite what others think. In other words, I don’t see what Gleeson offers that Davis doesn’t, but I see a heck of a lot that Davis offers that Gleeson doesn’t. But GR’s knowledge of the game is much more expansive than mine or any other Blues fan’s, so he will have his reasons for picking the Irishman over the ex-Dingle.
Defensively was always going to be GR’s biggest problem this summer though, and for me that problem still lingers now. The last line of the defence needed replenishing, with Darren Randolph being the most high profile player to depart Blues this summer. Tomasz Kuszcak was on the face of it a very good replacement, and despite him having one or two ‘interesting’ moments in the Blues goal in pre-season I think he will come good, and Adam Legzdins seems like adequate back up.
Our Pole in goal will be a great addition in time
Who will be in front of the Keeper causes more concern. For starters whilst Paul Caddis and Jon Grounds at right and left-back are fine, if they get crocked or suspended then the two senior players currently behind them are Neal Eardley and Mitch Hancox; no disrespect intended, but they aren’t exactly the Football League’s modern day answer to Cafu and Paolo Maldini. Either or those two at full back could be considered a liability.
It’s at centre-half where we have the biggest problem though; Michael Morrison is a top defender, but we can’t seem to get a proper partner to play alongside him. I wasn’t upset at the fact that we missed out on signing Rob Kiernan permanently, because he seemed a bit lightweight and he had a ricket in his locker every other game but at the moment he would probably have been the best of a mediocre/bad bunch. I’ve never rated Jon Spector that highly, but even if I did the fact is that with his injury record you can’t bank on him playing more than twenty-five games in a season. Robbo’s been a good player for Blues (despite what some keyboard warriors may think) but he’s possibly not even a short-term answer, and David Edgar apparently doesn’t want to play at centre-half any more; God knows what some old school managers would have made of him apparently telling Gary Rowett where he did and didn’t want to play in January. In short, it’s at centre-half where we need to plug what could end up being a massive gaping hole, and I think Rowett will need to bring him reinforcements from elsewhere to do it.
So in short, the Blues first choice XI will probably be the sort of XI that played most of the games once Gary Rowett became manager last season, and that will be more than adequate at this level. In some areas we are very strong but in others we are undoubtedly weak. If we every need to change system or style over the season I’m not sure we have the players who would give us the flexibility to do it. In addition if we were hit with a spate of injuries and/or suspensions then we could well be up the creek without a paddle. That lack of depth is why more than anything else we won’t be troubling the upper reaches of the table, but to be honest compared to where the team was a year or two ago then mid-table is bliss.