It’s been a while since Birmingham City fans have had anything of note to shout about, and in the wake of the latest humbling at the hands of Barnsley, many have been left scratching their heads in complete bewilderment at how this mess has been allowed to happen in the first place - let alone how to go about rectifying it.
Gianfranco Zola’s tactical nous just wasn’t up to scratch; Harry Redknapp didn’t have the complete support of his players after opting to bring in an entirely new squad, as the existing group were simply “not good enough”; and Lee Carsley was not yet ready to go into full-time management.
Steve Cotterill was promised to be the answer to our problems.
A false dawn many would call it, when Che Adams slotted the winner against then top-of-the-table Cardiff; followed by the dismal display at Millwall a week later that suggested the underlying problems in the squad still existed; before a mere suggestion this squad could raise its game and fight when it matters most against Villa – as it should for every derby game.
But the failure to do so against Brentford and then away to Barnsley, backed by a more than vociferous Blues following; when points should really be won, proved a telling sign that not much has changed nearly a month on from Cotterill’s appointment. After all, not every game can be a Second City derby.
So what can be learned from the team selections in recent weeks? One thing is certain, which is that confidence amongst players is at rock bottom, with the middle of the park being one area where cohesion amongst teammates looks non-existent.
For all of the “razzmatazz” that Jota can bring to the table, one player alone can’t turn a disengaged team into a winning one all on his own accord.
As lively as the forwards have looked when brought into play, it is getting the ball to them that has proved a stumbling block; and the consistent Kieftenbeld-Ndoye-Davis trio in the middle that Cotterill has opted for has failed to solve that problem.
Ndoye, as impressive his record of most headers won across the European leagues reads on paper, just hasn't been good enough technically to have had a positive impact on this team; while positioning him as “a target to aim for” in the number 10 role against Brentford was a weak tactical move that harked back to the days of playing long to Donaldson.
One thing that Blues fans can appreciate however are players willing to put their bodies on the line; and in Maikel Kieftenbeld: who was so nearly snatched from our grasp before a breakdown in a move to Derby, now looking a god send – has been our most effective player in holding midfield this term.
That leaves David Davis, for all his efforts, as the weakest link out of the central midfield three. Whilst he has shown his worth in spells in a Blues shirt, and is one of the few players who can’t be accused of not trying hard enough, just hasn’t looked the part this season.
It can’t be a help to have two other players alongside him who effectively share the same role and possess the same attributes to do so – there has to be an attacking outlet from deep somewhere.
While Ndoye finally got dropped for good reason against Barnsley, Davis remained alongside Kieftenbeld; with little sign of improvement in the team’s performance from the tactical change.
It is an easy task to demand certain players be swapped around as a fan watching from the stands, but surely after countless games of the Kieftenbeld-Ndoye-Davis trio – it finally has to sink in that it just isn’t working.
Brentford last Wednesday night has to be the perfect example of the flaws evident in this lineup, with the middle of the park being an area where we looked incredibly weak and never in any hope of controlling. The penny must drop for Steve Cotterill sooner rather than later.
So what changes could be made? For a start, bringing Craig Gardner back into the fold is a must. Whatever has influenced his exclusion from the team must be quashed immediately, for we possess an attacking, creative outlet from deep in our ranks that is not even being utilised – or being given a chance to do so, for that matter.
Everton loanee Liam Walsh; who's disheartening debut against Preston proved to be Redknapp’s final game at St. Andrew's, must surely be worthy of another crack of the whip in light of recent performances of our central midfield.
It’s a huge shame Jason Lowe’s Blues career has been premature thanks to injury troubles, you just wonder what role he could have played had he been given the opportunities afforded and wasted by his teammates.
Defensively, the same problems lie, Michael Morrison and Marc Roberts as a central defensive partnership failing to inspire many that they are the duo to solidify our defence. When given the chance, Harlee Dean has failed to take his opportunities and has looked nervy whenever appearing in blue.
In attack, there is more reason to be cheerful – just not for the goal return so far. Given the chance, a forward line of Jeremie Boga, Che Adams and Jota in behind Lukas Jutkiewicz would surely begin to start delivering compared to any other variation we’ve seen lead the line to date.
With David Stockdale out of action through injury, Tomasz Kuszczak looked to have fully grasped his chance, showing some great goalkeeping displays that have since tailed off, with time on the bench likely when Stockdale returns.
It’s a disheartening time to be a bluenose; but with the international break upon us and with the message firmly put across by supporters that enough is enough, all we can do is hope that the work in training reflects the concerns of the Blues faithful and that players make themselves counted against Forest on 18th November – to at least restore a crumb of pride if nothing else.