January was expected to be a tough month for Blues.
Though positivity remained in the air and Rowett spoke with pride in the media, the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day showed the limitations of the group Rowett had to work with while everybody’s gut feeling was that Demarai Gray would be sold in January. Would the money be pumped back in? Would we bring in the required enforcements from an attacking and defensive point of view?
A potentially difficult month.
The aim this season was for the team to continue giving their all and see where it may take us. While the bookies made us one of the favourites for relegation, those around the club knew that this season could potentially be special. The minimum aim for supporters was that the players continued to show the same kind of passion that was pivotal in our strong run under Rowett the season before. Financially we were not going to be able to compete with the likes of Derby County, Hull City, Middlesbrough, Burnley and, well, the list goes on and our position was likely to reflect that for the large part.
So as January began, Gray was gone, Vaughan and Halford returned to Huddersfield Town and Rotherham United respectively and although Wes Thomas, Mitch Hancox and Mark Duffy were due back, they were unlikely to be a part of the squad. David Cotterill was soon to return but had struggled with injuries most of the campaign while Clayton Donaldson and Paul Robinson had not long recovered from lengthy injuries. The squad looked thin.
The first 31 days of the new year have brought about pivotal change to the Birmingham City squad. Gary Rowett and Panos Pavlakis have worked wonders behind the scenes and despite quarrels about whether Rowett had enough support to bring in the right types of players, he has come through with flying colours.
First there was James Vaughan. His loan deal until the end of the season, followed by a permanent deal at the end of the season, was a smart and necessary move. A striker coming back home after being frozen out in Huddersfield due to his inability to remain fit, his ability to score goals will no doubt return as his fitness continues to improve.
Will Buckley followed on what was to be a short-term move initially. Fans had their doubts yet this was a player who was a key part of machine for Watford and Brighton with his direct running in wide areas. More experienced and desperate to prove himself after struggling with Sunderland, his first start against Ipswich was everything supporters wanted to see from their new wide man. He will now stay until the end of the Championship campaign.
Gary Rowett then signed a new deal. While contract lengths tend to mean little in football these days, it was another sign that actually, there is ambition at this club. We want to keep Rowett and Rowett is confident that he can continue moving Blues in the right direction.
It would get better. Diego Fabbrini signing from Watford was without doubt the pinnacle. Technically he proved to be far beyond anybody in a Blues shirt during his loan spell while his vision, awareness and creativity are going to be key parts to our side. The price was a testament to the ambition of the club as we paid over £1 million for the first time in five years. The length of contract was further proof that the club believes in its long term future.
Attacking reinforcements complete but with Neal Eardley out for the season, Shane Lowry on his way out and questions still being raised over the qualities of Paul Caddis, Paul Robinson and Jonathan Spector, at least for the long-term if not the short-term, the addition of Ryan Shotton was a very welcome addition the following day. A versatile defender who has played in midfield during his career too, his disappearance from a talented Derby County squad should not see him questioned and at 27, he provides the height and power lacking from our defensive group. Not to mention the experience of learning his trade under Tony Pulis.
And if the transfers, contracts and overwhelming feeling of excitement wasn’t enough for January, the unbeaten month on the pitch has made being a Blues fan all the more enjoyable. Brentford was about backs to the wall, being hard to beat and picking our opportunities wisely. Forest was hard fought but we came away with a decent point thanks to a fine Toral goal. Derby and Ipswich were wonderful with Toral and Kieftenbeld again stepping up. The Bristol City result will have disappointed some but considering they have a new manager, five new additions, a change of shape and renewed confidence in their ability to perform in the second tier, a 0-0 was not a devastating result.
We head into February in sixth position. Our star summer additions in Maikel Kieftenbeld and Jon Toral are coming into their own while we have conceded just twice in our six game unbeaten run. Our options from the bench have gone from Lowry, Shinnie, Brock-Madsen and Solomon-Otabor to Fabbrini, Vaughan, Maghoma and Shotton.
I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season holds.