Birmingham City: Gary Rowett's impressive first year as manager

By Ged ScottBBC Sport
Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett
Gary Rowett's Birmingham lie sixth in the Championship after 13 matches

Gary Rowett will mark his first year in charge of Birmingham City when his team host Wolves at St Andrew's on Saturday - against the same side he began his reign.

When the two sides met at Molineux on 1 November 2014, Wolves were the top-six Championship club and Blues were languishing 23rd in the table, 15 points behind.

They will be separated by nine points going into this weekend. But it is Blues up there in sixth, and Wolves in 15th.

Admittedly, it does not always go to plan. Rowett's side even got as high as second until their unbeaten Championship away record was ended on Saturday, by a Hull side managed by former Blues boss Steve Bruce.

But, after years of instability off the pitch under the ownership of Carson Yeung, Birmingham now have their dressing room in the calming hands of one of English football's most respected young managers.

Wolves 0-0 Blues - where it all began

Gary Rowett
Gary Rowett got off to a sound start as Birmingham manager, drawing 0-0 at Wolves

It was on Monday, 27 October 2014 that Rowett, 41, left Burton Albion to become the new manager of Birmingham City, a club with which he had had spent two years as a player under Trevor Francis from 1998 to 2000.

His appointment came a week after the sacking of Lee Clark and just two days after Blues, under the caretaker management of Malcolm Crosby, had suffered their worst-ever home defeat - 8-0 by a Bournemouth side that went on to win the league.

Rowett's first game in charge was against West Midlands neighbours Wolves, who only needed a point to go top of the Championship for a couple of hours at least.

Wolves got it, but Blues were the moral victors. The immediate impact of new centre-back Michael Morrison, Rowett's first signing, helped his side hold their hosts to a goalless draw. And the contrast between the two local rivals since is marked.

Blues v Wolves - one year on

Wolves, within a month of that draw, had lost five games in a row, ending their automatic promotion hopes.

They were to miss the play-offs on goal difference, before their best player, Bakary Sako, moved to Crystal Palace for nothing as his contract had expired.

They also then offloaded their most experienced central defender Richard Stearman to Fulham before being hit by the loss for the season of injured striker Nouha Dicko.

Wolves did manage to hang on to prize asset Benik Afobe prior to the August transfer deadline, but Kenny Jackett's side lie 15th in the Championship after three straight defeats.

And their chairman Steve Morgan has put the club up for sale.

Blues, by way of contrast, lost just twice in 14 league games, climbing to 10th by the end of last season - their highest finish since making the play-offs under Chris Hughton, a year after relegation from the Premier League.

The club has officially been open to takeover offers ever since the day of their play-off second-leg fixture with Blackpool in May 2012. Yet, when Bournemouth made a string of bids rising to £5m for winger Demarai Gray in January, Blues held firm.

Gray hit the winner when Blues beat Wolves 2-1 in their last meeting at St Andrew's on 11 April - and, after their great start to 2015-16, Blues go into Saturday's derby in a play-off position.

Why did Rowett get the Blues?

Gary Rowett
Gary Rowett played 106 games for Birmingham, twice helping them reach the second-tier play-offs

Rowett had gained two and a half years' experience in his first job as manager of Burton Albion before being linked with other, bigger clubs. So why did he choose Birmingham City when the opportunity arose to return to the club he had represented as a player?

"I went to meet Blackpool and turned that opportunity down as I didn't feel as though the structure was there for me to succeed," he said.

"I'd heard one or two rumours that something might happen with Blues because of their form and I always thought that, if that came up, it was one I'd be seriously interested in.

"The first game at Wolves was a big one - to get a clean sheet and change that whole mentality. But the first home game, when we beat Watford and Clayton Donaldson got the winner, that was special. I remember saying at the time that, if someone had sacked me the following day, it would all have been worthwhile just to feel the atmosphere at St Andrew's that night."

Rowett in the transfer market

Rowett's best signing to date has been his first - centre-half Morrison from Charlton Athletic, who signed in his first week in charge, initially on loan.

Having helped keep a clean sheet on his debut, he has carried on proving a cornerstone of Blues' defence.

The City manager's subsequent dealings have been aimed at overseas players - largely on grounds of greater economy.

Dutch midfielder Maikel Kieftenbeld has proved the best of his summer dealings. "I thought he'd be a good player. He's turned out to be even better than I thought," said Rowett.

"We don't want to bring in lots and lots of foreign players. But, in the financial situation we're in, we have to look at how we can get more than we can in the UK sometimes.

"There's two or three areas in the team that we would strengthen if we could. We are in a position that we may be able to bring in one or two new players in January, if we continue to do well."

Rowett's signings
Goalkeepers: Tomasz Kuszczak, Adam Legzdins
Defenders: Michael Morrison, Shane Lowry
Midfielders: Maikel Kieftenbeld, Jacques Maghoma, Jon Toral (loan)
Striker: Nicolai Brock-Madsen

The men behind Rowett: Blues' backroom team

"Yes, I deliver the final message but the strength behind me is them, as they are doing most of the work," added Rowett.

"It's not just the lads that have come in with me - Kev Summerfield (assistant manager), Kevin Poole (goalkeeping coach), Mark Sale (first-team coach), Darren Robinson (head of performance). There are other great people working at the training ground. There are some 13 or 14 backroom staff who work incredibly hard. Without people like them, any Championship manager would struggle.

"Kevin Poole had been travelling for seven years from Bromsgrove to Burton every day and we used to laugh at him. 'Feeling stiff, Kev?' Now he's laughing all the way to the training ground (at Wast Hills, near Kings Norton, on the south side of Birmingham). He's only got about 10 minutes to drive now and we've got an hour and a half."

Rowett's relationship with reporters

Richard Wilford, Birmingham City reporter, BBC WM 95.6: "Gary Rowett has embraced the local media with wit, honesty and intelligence.

"He understood that he needed help to re-connect the club with a supporter-base increasingly fed up with the off-field issues that appeared to see their hard-earned cash being swept into unknown coffers in China and Hong Kong.

"Blues won only two home games in the full calendar year at the tail-end of Lee Clark's time in charge, a record Rowett remedied almost overnight. St Andrew's may not yet be a fortress, but the home fans now gather with a sense of anticipation rather than foreboding.

"And he has turned around many individual members of the squad who had grown disillusioned and disheartened by events at the club - players such as Stephen Gleeson, Andy Shinnie and Jonathan Grounds among the beneficiaries.

"Rowett's recent appearance on BBC WM's Football Phone-In drew plaudits from supporters, even from fans of other Midlands clubs. And, for as long as his openness is backed up with results, he is an increasingly hot property for teams with larger budgets and urgent aspirations."