Aitor Karanka’s eight month spell as manager of Birmingham City is expected to officially come to an end today (Monday) following a run of six defeats in nine games which has left the struggling Championship club one place above the drop zone.
Karanka cut an absolutely dejected figure in the aftermath of Saturday’s dismal 3-0 defeat to Nigel Pearson’s Bristol City - he has done for some time in fairness - which means he will now exit Birmingham with a disappointing return of just eight wins from 38 games in charge.
That’s a win rate of just 21%.
The Spaniard previously propelled Middlesbrough into the Premier League, but at Birmingham he was unable to wave his managerial wand. He simply had no answers to the club’s poor form - three wins from his last 19 games - and never looked like conjuring up a winning run to steer the club clear of danger.
Changing managers at St Andrews - where they lost a dozen league games under Karanka, three more home defeats than any other club - is nothing new of course, it’s something the frustrated fans have unfortunately become accustomed to in recent times.
The club’s rapid revolving door policy in regards to incumbents means a multitude of gaffers have come and gone, with Karanka Birmingham’s sixth casualty since Gary Rowett’s surprise back in Christmas 2016.
With just 10 games to go Birmingham (21st), who have played four games more than Rotherham in 22nd, are in severe danger of playing third-tier football for the first time since 1994/95.
Could Neil Harris return for his third Championship job?
The next Birmingham City manager market opened up on Sunday, and it was a familiar face who immediately topped the betting: Tony Pulis.
Earlier this season Pulis could be found in charge of Birmingham’s relegation rivals Sheffield Wednesday, however he was cast aside by the Owls after just 10 games, with his stint lasting all of six weeks between November and the end of December. The Owls are now on their fourth manager of the season, Darren Moore.
Pulis is available, has managed over 1000 matches, and his organisational and structural qualities mean he could be a short-term solution until the end of the season. It may not be pretty, but given the timing he may be viewed as a quick-fix option as the Blues bid to escape relegation.
BirminghamLive reports that former Blues coach Mark Bowen - under Steve Bruce - is interested in a return to the club as manager. The long-time assistant to Mark Hughes ventured into management himself at Reading (October 2019) and to his credit steered the club from the relegation zone up to 14th, before the club surprisingly chose to replace him in the summer with Veljko Paunovic.
The Cowleys could be an option
Danny Cowley, who is being linked with the job at Portsmouth, again features as a main protagonist in an EFL manager market. Danny and brother Nicky could have a big decision to make should both clubs come knocking at their door: Return to the Championship and bid to perform another rescue act, like they did with Huddersfield, or attempt to lead a decent-placed League One club to promotion?
Charlton boss Lee Bowyer is also in the frame, as is Lincoln City’s Michael Appleton. Both bosses have their eye on a promotion to the Championship at the moment, so each appear unlikely to leave at this particular point.
The summer could be a different story, although the fact Bowyer played for the club makes things interesting so watch this space, there have been rumours that a deal could be in place.
Yet another name in contention for Portsmouth and Birmingham is Neil Harris, who has plenty of Championship experience on his CV following spells at Millwall and Cardiff City.
At Millwall he took over towards the end of the 2014/15 season when the club’s relegation fate was virtually sealed, but he orchestrated a return to the second-tier at the second time of asking, then inspired an impressive 8th-place finish. At Cardiff, he featured in the Championship play-offs last season but lost his job at the start of the year following a run of six successive defeats.
Could Garry Monk return?
Chris Wilder and Frank Lampard are probably out of reach, given the club’s precarious position above the Championship relegation zone. The same applies to John Terry and Eddie Howe.
Mark Hughes has been doing the rounds on TV recently, where he’s signalled his intent to return to management after a two-and-a-half-year absence, whereas former Birmingham boss Garry Monk is currently out-of-work.
Who knows what the owners will do next. Given that there are only 10 games to go, an internal appointment could well be possible, as has been the case at numerous EFL clubs this season.