Today I could write a philosophical piece. Something about Libya or the Lib Dem Conference. My slight suspicion that the local paper only ran with John Hemming’s refusal to join Nick Clegg in apologising for his party’s tuition fee pledge after I had put something on the Mambo about it.
But instead, being a self-indulgent sort, I want to dwell on football, and specifically Birmingham City’s capitulation against Barnsley on Saturday evening. A result and performance that angered me greatly.
As a Blues fan, you get used to losing and disappointment. In fact, the comparative success of the last few years have gone against the grain and the current crises at the club are in some respects merely a case of normal service being resumed. And the club that tore us a new arsehole the other night have previous when it comes to Blues:
A formative day in the football education of a Junior Mambo. I swore that day that I would never pay to watch a football match again. Naturally it was a fit of pique, and one that toughened me up.
But despite the club’s lack of glamour and distinct propensity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, there has been one trait that has defined our history. We do not go down without a fight.
That trait wasn’t much in evidence at the weekend. To lose in that fashion, and against opponents so undistinguished, represents one of the worst nights in the modern history of the club. A nadir.
Credit to Barnsley however. They played wonderfully, were well-organised and the scoreline flattered us and not them. They should be congratulated on an excellent night’s work, in particular their 4-goal hero Craig Davies, who ironically is a Blues fan.
However their away form prior to this game was played three, lost three and conceded 10. Their wage bill is a fraction of ours despite our well-known financial problems. Very few of their players would get in the Blues team.
Blues were complete shite. Defensively we were as poor as I can remember. We were second to every ball. Barnsley cut us open at will. Clark’s tactics and selection were abysmal. Too many players were left on the bench who simply should have started with no indication given why they did not. I am unclear why we have signed Ravel Morrison if we refuse to play him. He may be a sociopath, but he has shown even in his cameo appearances that he is the most naturally gifted player in the squad (although admittedly that isn’t saying a lot). He should be playing.
DC remarked to me when we first signed Hayden Mullins that he had “no idea what he was actually for”. A fair question, after another appearance where the wisdom in signing a 33 year old who was a pile of shit even in his prime has to be seriously questioned.
As I listened to a fans phone-in afterwards, I reflected on some of the wider issues for the club that this evisceration raised.
To my mind the result confirmed that Lee Clark needs to be dismissed. This performance was no aberration and the “turned corner” of the last couple of weeks is a chimera. We have been dreadful ever since he was appointed. He has taken a squad that produced some of the most exhilarating performances in the club’s history last season and turned them into a gang of strangers who appear to have been given instructions to smash it down the channels and hope for the best. His decision-making is rash and simultaneously horribly conservative, which contrasts starkly to the sure-footed, calm, incisive and intelligent tactical, selection and transfer market choices of his predecessor, Chris Hughton.
Much has been made of the club’s much-documented off-field problems/ownership issues and how they are a contributory factor to the problems on the pitch. To be honest I don’t buy it. We have better players than Barnsley even after the mass exodus of the last couple of years. We were at home. We should not be losing, at least not like that.
Hughton was working under the same financial constraints last season and arguably Clark has had more scope in the market to bring in players like Morrison, Paul Caddis and Leroy Lita as well as paying a fee for the hitherto anonymous Darren Ambrose. And this season we don’t have the gruelling distraction of a European campaign to stretch the squad still further.
We may only be six games in but as far as I can see the die has already been cast. Clark is out of his depth and there is no indication whatsoever that he can turn it around. None. No indication of a plan. No response from him other than incoherent clichés, crude management psycho-babble and empty promises that he will re-double his and the players efforts. Nobody doubts that Clark is trying his best right now. That’s the problem………
I’ve never bought into “the manager needs time” mantra. You know pretty quickly if they are going to turn it around and giving a donkey more time is only delaying the inevitable, and risking the future of the club. It was apparent early last season, despite some indifferent results in the first few league games, that we had a manager who knew what he was doing. It is already apparent that we have one now who doesn’t know what he is doing.
Clark’s previous record provides no hope that he has the capacity to turn this around. No one at Huddersfield would take back a manager who failed to get a club with the biggest budget out of League One. That was his first and only managerial role before Birmingham. This isn’t Alex Ferguson at Man United.
It’s also been argued elsewhere that Blues cannot afford to sack Clark. To this I would respond with a couple of questions:
- Will Lee Clark still be in a job if we lose our next 5 games 5-0? Answer: no. He will be sacked come what may and the finances will not come into it, and we all know it.
- It is not inconceivable at the moment that next season we will paying Nikola Zigic £60k a week in League One. At present we are the softest touch in the league, excepting Peterborough maybe. Can we really afford to allow that to happen, or would replacing the manager be cheaper in the long run?
His appointment was a mistake and he needs to be dismissed as a matter of urgency. We don’t need to ‘play the kids’ or start whacking our opponents harder. We need to replace the main source of our current problems on the pitch.
It isn’t too late to salvage this season.