Eustace and Birmingham gamble on each other to great effect - The Evesham Observer

Eustace and Birmingham gamble on each other to great effect

Evesham Editorial 25th Nov, 2022   0

It was surprising all-round when John Eustace replaced the sacked Lee Bowyer to become Birmingham’s new manager during the summer.

After all, Eustace’s sole managerial role prior to getting the top job at St Andrew’s came in the Conference North at Kidderminster Harriers, a position he left back in 2018.

And while the former Coventry and Derby midfielder’s two-year spell at Aggborough Stadium was impressive – Eustace took the Harriers to the Conference North Play-offs in successive seasons and implemented a style of play that resulted in his side being tagged “the non-league Barcelona” – his CV lacks experience of managing in the Football League.

Also bold was Eustace himself deciding that his first step on the managerial ladder would be at boyhood club Birmingham where uncertainty continues to hang over the club amid ongoing talks of a takeover.

Eustace could’ve quite easily continued with his dual assistant manager roles at QPR and the Republic of Ireland where his presence in particular, albeit brief, has been missed.

Few online bookmakers in Ireland give their national side hope in hell of qualifying for Euro 2024 but his appointment earlier in the year was a coup for the Republic and viewed as pivotal in giving under-fire boss Stephen Kenny the support he quite clearly needs.

But Eustace’s decision to back himself and forge his own management career is one that is paying off.

Having played almost half a season as the league takes a pause for the World Cup, their current mid-table position is more than respectable, especially taking into account the underwhelming start that brought only one win from their first seven league fixtures.

At that stage, it looked as if the bookie’s early season predictions tipping the Blues for relegation would play out to be true. But the doubters are beginning to be proved wrong: with almost half the season played the Blues are closer to the Championship play-offs than the relegation zone.

Eustace has overseen a vast improvement in a short time with the defensive style he has employed in particular paying off to great effect.

It’s often said that a football team is a mirror image of its manager and Birmingham certainly resemble the combative style in which ex-midfielder Eustace not only played but also captained the teams he represented.

His side own the third joint-best defensive record in the league and haven’t been beaten by more than two goals in any game so far. Coupled with the form of goalkeeper John Ruddy who has been rewarded for his performances with a new contract, Birmingham are built on a solid foundation.

Also key to Birmingham’s impressive start to the campaign have been the goals scored by a rejuvenated Scott Hogan, whose tally of nine so far is one short of his entire tally for last season.

Not many betting offers in Ireland would have been placed on the Irish international sitting atop the goalscoring charts but that’s exactly where Hogan is, albeit with seven other players.

Hogan is beginning to show the kind of form – and numbers –  which brought him to prominence initially, having been largely inconsistent. His strike partner and club captain Troy Deeney, who played with Eustace at Watford, has found a new lease of life under his new manager too, having struggled to make an impact under Lee Bowyer.

Along with helping to improve the output of the experienced players at St Andrew’s, Eustace has placed a lot of his faith in youth.

Recruiting young players hungry for first-team football has been central to Birmingham’s recruitment policy since Eustace was installed with Tahith Chong making his switch from Man United a permanent one and fellow Old Trafford prospect Hannibal Mejbri joining on loan.

Both players have added creativity to a midfield previously short on options, likewise Polish international Krystian Bielik, on-loan from Derby. Auston Trusty of Arsenal and Emmanuel Longelo of West Ham, have performed consistently during their loan spells as well and strengthened Birmingham’s defence no end.

In addition to the above – and perhaps of more importance to Blues supporters – Eustace is handling the emergence of Birmingham’s very own youngsters, Jobe Bellingham, Jordan James and George Hall expertly, with each player given the game time needed to aid their development.

In a limited time, Eustace has made a sizeable impact at St Andrew’s.

It has been a while since Birmingham fans could look forward to a team making progress on the pitch but the arrival of Eustace, whose qualities as a coach and passion as a Blues fan, has changed that.

What first looked like a gamble by both sides, looks to be paying off.


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