With victory over Nottingham Forest drawing Birmingham City further out of the mire of potential relegation, fans seemed to be celebrating the influence of newly installed manager Gary Rowett on the team. Imparting his own style on the side, he has overseen the quick revival of Birmingham’s players, aiming to bring a demonstrable sense of determination and optimism to the club.
Birmingham began the match strongly, creating a host of chances which might have given them the lead. As the first half continued to progress Forest worked their way back into the game, only to see a quickfire triple hand Birmingham the impetus as half time approached. Rowett’s Birmingham took the lead in the 35th minute through a David Cotterill free kick. Putting a ball into the mix at ground level, Cotterill’s effort ghosted through the box, evading the outstretched legs of both his teammates and opponents to nestle in the back of Karl Darlow’s net. The second came just three minutes later, and bore significant similarities to the first. From an almost identical position Cotterill put a second cross into the Forest box, where Clayton Donaldson was the quickest to react and turn home to establish a two goal lead. Their third came with a touch of fortune, when a Darlow parry from Andrew Shinnie’s effort came off his own teammate to drop at the feet of Donaldson, who gratefully prodded the ball home for his second of the game.
Forest pressed in an effort to recover some ground in the game, creating a host of chances before Britt Assombalonga nodded home a header at the far post to give the . home side a late consolation. Birmingham, though, remained resolute and saw themselves through for a comfortable win, with Rowett accumulating his sixth win in his first ten games with the Blues.
Rowett has, as evidenced by his side’s starting line up, an admirable courage in his own decisions. Following last Friday’s match, when Derby returned home from St. Andrews with a 4-0 victory under their belts, few might have questioned revisions to the starting eleven that lined up opposite Forest. Rowett, however, retained his starting eleven, which have been identical for their last five games (including the 6-1 win over Birmingham and the 2-1 victory over Forest in the reverse fixture), and his team validated that decision with a dominant performance and comfortable victory.
That managerial assurance has already become a trademark of Rowett’s nascent regime at Birmingham, exhibiting a confidence and composure that appear to have rubbed off on his players. Having inherited a side undergoing a challenging period – the exit of his predecessor Lee Clark came over a year since their last home win, while their one game under interim management culminated in an 8-0 hammering by current league leaders Bournemouth – Rowett’s effect on the team has been pronounced. Lifting the Blues from 21st in the league table to 14th in little over two months, the stability brought about by his appointment has restored the tenacity and resolve to his Birmingham side.
Rowett, more than simply succeeding in his own right, represents an important message for other English managerial hopefuls. There has been in recent years a tendency to seek out foreign managers for vacant positions, and thus opportunities for homegrown managers have been in increasingly short supply, hindering their potential advancement. Rowett, therefore, stands as testament to both the capability of English managers, thus raising the profile of other domestic managers in instances of possible vacancies, and the benefit of previous experience of the club. Returning to St. Andrews as a manager, Rowett spent two years at Birmingham as a player, a factor that was noted in his selection to take the helm at the club. The value of that time, understanding the ethos of the club and its fans, appears to have paid dividends in his current position, allowing Rowett to settle quickly and effectively bring changes.
Having already yielded productive results at his new club, Rowett’s effect on Birmingham evidences the quality of both himself and his colleagues.
What steps might Gary Rowett take to further build on his strong start at Birmingham?