Saturday, 11 May 2013

End of Season Reflections

A week ago today saw the end of the Championship season and all the promotion and relegation decisions were made; Hull gained the last automatic promotion place, Leicester beat Nottingham Forest in the last minute to leapfrog both them and Bolton Wanderers, who could only draw at home to Blackpool, into the last play-off place. They joined Watford, Crystal Palace and Brighton, whilst at the other end of the table Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Huddersfield all fought off relegation, condemning Peterborough and Wolverhampton Wanderers to League One alongside already relegated Bristol City.

And amongst only three matches which didn’t have a deciding factor on the race for promotion or the battle to beat the drop, were Birmingham City.

It’s been an indifferent season for the Blues to say the least. Wins were few and far between at the beginning of the campaign, and a 5-0 home defeat to Barnsley made many question to managerial abilities of Lee Clark, who was going to have a hard job as it was succeeding the much loved Chris Hughton.

Lee Clark had a tough act to follow. Image: Getty Images
But with only four wins under his belt by the end of October, Clark definitely had a lot to prove. The team were lacklustre, the defending questionable and we seemed incapable of both starting and finishing a game of the front foot. The team from last season seemed to have disappeared; even player of the season Chris Burke had lost his touch.

Injuries didn’t help Clark, especially the loss of top goal scorer Marlon King. The youngsters were drafted in, and although they managed to step up to the demands of a tough league, things were looking bleak and Blues had a definite relegation battle on their hands going into the second half of the season.

Fortunately things slowly picked up. Blues ended January in winning ways which sparked a fantastic away record, winning against the teams around them such as Peterborough as well as chalking a 4-0 win against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, live on Sky, which won performance of the season at the end of season awards – and rightly so.
Players celebrate the fourth goal at Crystal Palace. Image: Getty Images
Three consecutive wins at the end of March left Blues mid-table and slowly creeping away from relegation, but points picked up in April – most notably a hard-fought win at Bristol City followed by a 1-0 home victory against Leeds – saw Blues safe, and ironically quite close to the play-offs, which had seemed a distant memory of the season before in December.

The end of the season could have been better. Three goals down at Ipswich Town in the penultimate match of the season wasn’t a place we deserved to be in after recent performances, but 3-1 seemed a fair result after the first half defensive display.

The final game of the season saw a 1-1 draw against Blackburn, and the end to a less than enthralling season for the Blues. It was a change in scenery having nothing to be too excited or nervous about at any point during the season; only last season we saw a play-off campaign and European Tour, and previous seasons saw promotions, relegations, a Carling Cup win, and a top half finish in the Premier League.

Although it was relieving not to be involved in last-game-of-the-season drama for once, I admit I missed it. Watching the final games on the Football League Show made me miss being involved in something big for the club, and although in the end we weren’t a million miles away from the play-offs we still weren’t convincing enough, not by a long way.

The home form needs to improve drastically, as going from one of the best in the league to one of the worst is a massive change in fortunes. Ironically we have never been very good away from home, but 2013 has seen Blues flourish in away fixtures something which, if replicated at St. Andrew’s, would stand us in good stead for play-off contention next season.

Things will change between now and then. Stephen Carr has already announced his retirement, whilst the option was not taken up to retain the services of Keith Fahey – after four and a half years at the club and one of the only remaining Wembley winners – with Morgaro Gomis, Pablo Ibanez and Steven Caldwell all leaving the club too.

A host of players have been offered new deals or had their options taken up, including Chris Burke, Wade Elliott and Paul Robinson, showing that Clark wants to keep the old guard to influence the crop of young players coming through, who will also have a major part to play next season after stepping up to the first team and doing so well. Keeping hold of players like Curtis Davies, who won both player and players' player of the season, will be Clark's task before the start of the 2013/14 season, as well as building a squad fit for a play-off campaign.

Even with the financial mess still impacting the club and the team massively, hopefully next season will be a better one for Blues, and with any luck come the last game of the season, it’ll be a little more interesting with a lot more to play for – at the right end of the league of course.

Lee Clark will look to build on a 12th place finish. Image:

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