Blues’ glass both half full and half empty...

Birmingham Post - - SPORT - Foot­ball Writer

BLUES have reached the first stag­ing post of their Cham­pi­onship sea­son, six games in and still wait­ing for that first win.

And the match in which they signed off, a de­flat­ing per­for­mance in the 0-0 draw with QPR, did noth­ing for op­ti­mism lev­els. How­ever, it’s not all doom and gloom, the first half­dozen fix­tures have con­tained plenty to be hope­ful about.

Play­ing well Blues have com­pre­hen­sively out­played half of their op­po­nents: Nor­wich on open­ing day, when they were de­nied by a calami­tous equaliser; Swansea, who were in the Premier League last sea­son and whose goal was charmed at St An­drew’s; and Not­ting­ham For­est, one of the Cham­pi­onship’s big­gest spenders.

They were also bet­ter than Bolton for long pe­ri­ods. In­deed, only Mid­dles­brough and QPR have bested them, two matches which re­sulted in the con­ces­sion of just one goal.

It’s clear to even the harsh­est critic that Blues are func­tion­ing al­most as well at the start of this sea­son as they did at the end of last.

Birm­ing­ham united Ev­ery player has spo­ken of the to­geth­er­ness in the squad. That is prob­a­bly aided by the fact that the first-team group is so small, but con- trast the in­ter­view Har­lee Dean gave af­ter the de­feat at Barns­ley last sea­son, with the one he gave re­cently.

It was very much a be­seech­ing tone at Oak­well, im­plor­ing his team-mates to come to­gether for the good of the club.

Yet in the build-up to QPR – a year to the day af­ter the chaos of five play­ers ar­riv­ing as the trans­fer win­dow closed – the mes­sage could not have been more dif­fer­ent.

“Last year there was a lit­tle bit of let­ting peo­ple get away with things, which there is no room for any more,” Dean said. “If you want to be the best you have to train like it. The chang­ing room is good, we are all to­gether.”

Gard­ner’s world De­spite the scep­ti­cism when news first broke of the 26-year-old’s sign­ing from Villa, Gard­ner has es­tab­lished him­self as an up­grade in the mid­dle of the park and ar­guably the club’s best mid­fielder.

He has been a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence off the pitch and a good dis­trib­u­tor on it. He has also read games well and con­trib­uted to the de­fen­sive side of the game.

A first goal – it al­most came at For­est – will be the ic­ing on the cake. For now he has si­lenced many of the doubters and has con­nected with the Blues fans – some­thing that has meant a huge amount to him. Case for the de­fence Over­all the de­fence has done well. It’s im­por­tant not to go over­board af­ter the late wob­ble against Nor­wich and some hor­ri­ble mo­ments at the City Ground. But the quar­tet of Maxime Colin, Michael Mor­ri­son, Dean and Kris­tian Ped­er­sen are square pegs in square holes and are op­er­at­ing well to­gether.

Sta­tis­ti­cally, only Swansea, Leeds and Boro have con­ceded fewer goals than Blues’ six and only Boro, Leeds and Black­burn have more than Blues’ two clean sheets.

Kris­tian sol­dier Ped­er­sen had a re­ally tough in­tro­duc­tion to English foot­ball and the free­dom he af­forded Nor­wich’s Onel Her­nan­dez was a mas­sive rea­son for Blues’ fail­ure to win their opener.

With the ball in front of him he looked solid enough but the Cuban­born winger ran off him with ease at St An­drew’s. Since then, though, he has steadily im­proved and, while look­ing solid, the feel­ing is there is much more to come.

Ta­ble mat­ters There’s no get­ting away from it, the win hasn’t come. Blues have four points from six games and are in the bot­tom five. They are a 2-0 win and a few help­ful re­sults away from 14th. They are even fewer re­sults from 24th.

At this stage of the sea­son the league ta­ble is barely worth the A4 it’s printed on, yet pres­sure builds the longer teams are down there. Sea­sons can be­come self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cies.

No one wants a fourth strug­gle in six cam­paigns, which is why Blues need to start tak­ing steps for­ward.

Eas­ier said than done with West Brom, Sh­effield United and Leeds as the next three op­po­nents.

Small squad Garry Monk’s pro­mo­tion of squad unity above ev­ery­thing means he iso­lated the likes of David Stock­dale and To­masz Kuszczak, while Diego Fab­brini and Jonathan Grounds have been farmed out.

Greg Ste­wart and Cheikh Ndoye have also left on loan, mean­ing Blues reg­u­larly field two or three young­sters on their bench.

They have one se­nior re­place­ment at cen­tre-half, one at full-back, one at cen­tre-back and one at striker, while sev­eral likely lads fill in around the edges.

The close­ness of the group is a strength but the shal­low­ness of it is a weak­ness. Blues are one in­jury from hav­ing to send in an untested rookie.

Hands tied Monk made the de­ci­sion to move on un­wanted se­nior play­ers at a time when he thought he would have op­tions in the trans­fer mar­ket. Un­for­tu­nately, those op­tions dried up when the EFL learned of the club’s Fi­nan­cial Fair Play sit­u­a­tion and the breach of Prof­itabil­ity and Sus­tain­abil­ity reg­u­la­tions.

An em­bargo fol­lowed, then there was a de­lay in the reg­is­tra­tion of Ped­er­sen and now Blues will find them­selves be­fore a dis­ci­plinary com­mit- tee some time this au­tumn.

They have also used four of the five trans­fers, loans or frees on less than £10k a week that are al­lowed them for the re­main­der of the sea­son, mean­ing they have one more.

They can reg­is­ter a free trans­fer at any stage, or sign a loan when the win­dow opens in Jan­uary. It re­ally is a Band Of Brothers sce­nario.

Goal famine For all their func­tion­ing and to­geth­er­ness, Blues are tenth in the league in terms of shots on goal.

How­ever, they are the sec­ond­low­est scor­ers in the divi­sion. Their four is bet­ter than QPR’s three.

It feels as if most games are go­ing to be de­cided by the smallest of mar­gins, which in it­self puts pres­sure on the play­ers and coaches. Ev­ery de­fen­sive sit­u­a­tion needs deal­ing with, ev­ery sub­sti­tu­tion is vi­tal. There is so lit­tle room for er­ror. So far the glass has been both half full and half empty. It has been a month where the dif­fer­ence be­tween per­for­mances and re­sults has been there for all to see.

It’s a con­cern that Blues re­main win­less when they are at their strong­est. But it’s a com­fort, QPR apart, that they are op­er­at­ing with such co­he­sion and en­ergy.

The fu­ture re­mains largely de­pen­dent on how of­ten Monk can put out his first-choice side – and how he keeps that team fresh.

>There was scep­ti­cism about Gary Gard­ner’s loan move from Villa but he has ar­guably been Blues’ best per­former in mid­field By BRIAN DICK >Boss Garry Monk has em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of squad unity

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