When Gary Rowett arrived at Birmingham City in October 2014, his first task was to restore pride after the Blues’ heaviest defeat in 84 years.The club had just been beaten 8-0 by eventual-champions Bournemouth in front of their home fans – a result that saw them consigned to the relegation zone, and in need of change.
That change came in the form of ex-Burton Albion manager Rowett and, ever since, it’s been a story of their rise back to the top half of the Sky Bet Championship table.
Birmingham recovered from their lowly position to end 10th in 2014/15, and backed it up with an identical finish last season – although they were pushing for the Play-Offs for the majority of the campaign.
Rowett, a manager who is often credited with extracting the very most from his squad, is keen to dispel that theory, and is hungry for further improvement ahead of the new season.
“You don’t like to say that you’ve maximised anything – that suggests you can’t do any better,” he told the EFL.
“But we are quite pleased with our progress overall. To come out of the first season and finish as strongly as 10th was a good achievement. Last year was slightly different in that we didn’t really come out of the top 10, but just tailed off in terms of contention for the Play-Offs with four or five games to go.
“In the light of where we are at the moment as a club, we still considered it a strong season. This year is about building again. Once we have a few more signings in the building and things settle down, I think we’ll be very competitive in a challenging, but exciting division.”
The 42-year-old is, by his own admission, still seeking activity in the transfer window, but isn’t shy to look to youth to provide competition for places in the dressing room.
Former Stevenage striker Jack Storer is one name in particular that has impressed Rowett this summer, with the 18-year-old having scored seven goals in pre-season.
And while the Blues boss admits it doesn’t change his immediate plans to add names to the current group, he is pleased to see the ever-increasing depth in the squad – something that will be required more than ever for the upcoming campaign.
“We’ve had some really bright performances from some of the younger players in pre-season,” he added.
“Jack Storer in particular is one on the radar for us. We got him from Stevenage where he got a little taste of first-team action. He’s a Blues lad and has been with the club before; it’s a bit of a second chance for him. He’s scored seven goals in pre-season and been really, really good. He’s probably been our in-form striker at just the age of 18.
“It doesn’t necessarily change our plans in the transfer market; I think every manager in the division is always seeking more firepower. His form hasn’t changed our stance in terms of brining in another striker, but it starts to push people in the second and third forward positions. It adds to the layer under the first team.
“With the banishment of the emergency loan system this season, the Under-21s have to be a bit stronger. They need to act as loans who could be coming into the first team.”
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