1681: Premiership: Steve Bruce rebui
by : Hugh Larkin
Birmingham City’s excellent victory over Liverpool is more like what was expected from the Blues at the start of the season. Injuries, loss of form and internal wrangling dented the hopes of forcing a path to Europe but Steve Bruce has proved again that he is an extremely adaptable manager who reacts decisively to problems.
Consider the front six in the team’s lineup against Liverpool- Pandiani, Heskey, Clemence, Pennant, Johnson and Gray were the men in question and compare it to this alternative selection;
Lazaridis/Gronkjaer Savage Izzett Dunn
None of these eight players were available to Bruce and yet the club turned in arguably their best performance of the campaign and it’s been a considerable remodelling job at St. Andrews.
The first and biggest loss came with the injury to striker Mikael Forssell which took out a guaranteed 20 goals in the season. Any team outside the ‘big three’ would struggle to cope but to compound that Bruce has enjoyed only fitful contributions from David Dunn, the most creative talent at the club. It remains to be seen whether injury will dog the Great Harwood born player’s whole career.
The plan to re-unite the ex-Leicester pairing of Muzzy Izzett and Robbie Savage foundered almost immediately because Izzett has spent most of the season in the treatment room. Then Savage, the heartbeat of the club since the return to the top flight, decided to up sticks to Blackburn amid much acrimony. The lack of clarity in the player’s reasons after he signed a new contract quite recently made the transfer process drawn out and was just what Birmingham didn’t need at the time.
Jesper Gronkjaer has also exited St.Andrews, although this time with the manager’s blessing. The Dane proved to be just as mercurial and infuriating as in his time at Chelsea and is one of Bruce’s gambles that didn’t pay off. Dwight Yorke is another who hasn’t seen his career re-ignited by a move back to the West Midlands, but set against that Emile Heskey is back to the form that terrorised defences and Mario Melchiot is the same steady professional he was at Chelsea.
Gronkjaer’s average contribution proved doubly galling because Blues have also missed the storming flank play of Stan Lazaridis ; however, this has allowed Julian Gray to prove that he is extremely versatile down the left side and a number of other players have also stepped up to fill gaps.
Clinton Morrison must have worried about his place with all the new arrivals but the Irish international picked up the slack and formed a hard grafting partnership with Heskey. Damian Johnson continues to do an unfussy job wherever he is selected and Stephen Clemence is back in the reckoning.
As he did two seasons ago, the manager has used the transfer window creatively to bring in reinforcements. Walter Pandiani is a quality player, Jermaine Pennant seems to be responding to the lifeline Bruce threw him and Robbie Blake will be a valued addition to the squad. The Blues are now in 12th place and have banished any lingering fear of relegation.
Barring miracles Europe is out of reach now, but there’s still a top nine finish to aim for to continue the progress made since reaching the Premiership. Not the advance hoped for but at least something positive to take from a difficult season which looks like finishing on a much brighter note.