Birmingham’s fixture on Friday night against Coventry was a turning point.
Under the management of Wayne Rooney, the team faced a dire run of form, culminating in an uninspiring 0-0 draw against relegated favourites Rotherham United. They travelled down the A45 to visit Coventry City, a side that has struggled in the aftermath of a Championship Play-off final defeat against Luton Town, as well as losing key players like Viktor Gyökeres & Gustavo Hamer during the summer transfer window. Separated by two places and a point, this local derby came under the Sky Sports cameras and a chance for both sides to get much needed points.
Before the crucial match, Birmingham encountered an injury crisis that further compounded their problems. Club captain Dion Sanderson and back-up right-back Coady Drameh were ruled out due to injuries, forcing makeshift adjustments with Marc Roberts slotting into the center-back position and midfielder Juninho Bacuna filling in as a right-back. It wasn’t an ideal situation, as Coady & Dion join into the injury list along with Ethan Laird, Tyler Roberts, Alfie Chang, George Hall & Keshi Anderson.
Despite facing a Coventry side grappling with their own difficulties, it was the Sky Blues who emerged victorious. Callum O’Hare’s double sealed an 8th consecutive away defeat for the Blues, highlighting the team’s lacklustre performance and the absence of any noticeable improvements under Rooney’s leadership. The disappointment was palpable as fans witnessed poor attacking intent, subpar ball control, and an overall lack of cohesion on the field. Notably, young winger Romelle Donovan, entering the fray in the 83rd minute, showcased more attacking intent than the team in his few minute cameo. If it wasn’t for Ruddy’s saves (including one that hit his face), an unexpected decent performance of Marc Roberts and Coventry not being clinical, blues were lucky that the game was only 2-0. Now Birmingham City in a space of nearly two months are 17th in the league, 4 points away from the relegation zone.
This match marked a turning point not only in the team’s fortunes but also in the relationship between the fans and manager Wayne Rooney. Frustration among the supporters reached a tipping point, with many starting to turn on Rooney. Those who initially backed him were losing faith in his ability to steer the team to success. The stats tell a grim story: one win, two draws, and six defeats under Rooney’s tenure, with only eight goals scored and a staggering 18 conceded. A mere five points out of a possible 27 points paints a bleak picture for a manager who inherited a team in the playoffs. The performance between Rooney and former manager John Eustace is vastly different, for all the wrong reasons.
The hiring of Rooney came in controversially and with debate, as the ownership lead by Tom Wagner’s Knighthead and CEO Gary Cook decided to sack John Eustace, despite leading the team in 6th place within the playoffs and coming from two big wins. It’s understandable they made the decision to play the new style of football that’s backed by statistics to get promoted into the Premier League, echoing similar style of Fulham, Burnley, Sheffield United, Bournemouth etc. in which these club played an attacking style of football which got them promoted. But was Rooney the right choice to spearhead that vision? He’s an English football legend for his playing career with Manchester United and England, but his managerial record is poor. Many argued that the vision could have been a success if there was an upgrade to Eustace, but Rooney isn’t an upgrade, coming into the club with a 27% win record for Derby County and DC United. Comparisons were drawn to previous managerial changes, such as Garry Rowlett for Gianfranco Zola, warning signs that are becoming increasingly harder to ignore. The stark contrast in the quality of football under Eustace and Rooney became glaringly apparent.
As the team’s struggles persist, questions arise about the responsibility of CEO Garry Cook and whether he acknowledges the potential mistake in hiring Rooney. The decision, influenced by personal connections, appears to have backfired, as the team’s progression, decent start, and unity among the club and fans have dissipated. Fans, once hopeful, now wonder how long the ownership’s backing of Rooney will endure. The reality is sacking him will cost the club large amount of money to pay him to leave, in which he has a 3.5 year contract at the club. With FFP still an issue, sacking Rooney is easier said than done.
The future looks bleak for Birmingham City under Rooney’s management, especially considering the challenging upcoming fixtures against Cardiff, Leicester, Plymouth, Stoke, and Bristol City. The lone win under Rooney’s reign against bottom-of-the-league Sheffield Wednesday fails to instil confidence, leaving fans sceptical about the team’s prospects moving forward.
Birmingham City’s Friday night fixture against Coventry may well be remembered as the turning point that exposed the deep-rooted issues within the team. As frustrations mount and faith in Rooney dwindles, the once-promising season now appears to be slipping away from the grasp of the Blues. The echoes of a controversial managerial change and the subsequent struggles on the field raise questions about the future direction of the club and how long Rooney’s tenure can withstand the mounting pressure.