Can Garry Monk give Birmingham City a prayer?

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 05 March 2018, 14:29

The start of a new era for Birmingham City, or the continuation of an old one? Given that Gianfranco Zola, Harry Redknapp and Steve Cotterill have all tried and failed to arrest the slump at St Andrews, it is tempting to conclude that the common denominator isn’t the manager.

Garry Monk’s appointment does, at least, provide some cause for optimism. The 38-year-old’s first full season in senior management saw him lead Swansea City to an 8th place Premier League finish in 2014/15 – despite the January sale of top scorer Wilfried Bony – making him an arguable contender for the Manager of the Year accolade.

In his second full season, his Leeds side finished 7th in the Championship in arguably their best season for over a decade. Monk favoured a compact 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders, whilst incorporating quick winners - roles that Jacques Maghoma and Jeremie Boga could undertake - and a naturally gifted number 10.

The absence of the latter has been a bugbear for Blues fans, who have grown tired of seeing ball-winners like Mikael Kieftenbeld and Cheikh N’Doye play in that position despite limited technical ability.

Monk brings with him Pep Clotet – his right-hand man during more successful periods – who might have the coaching qualities to coax the best out of Jota, who showed great talent at Brentford but has appeared a fish out of water in B9 thus far. James Beattie, a Southampton legend, should help Saints loanee Sam Gallagher recapture his January form.

The presence of two holding midfielders meanwhile should ensure the correct protection for captain Michael Morrison, who is more comfortable aerially than he is in wide spaces.

Monk though wouldn’t be taking on the problems at Birmingham if he didn’t have his own questions to answer. The positive results he oversaw at Elland Road, one might argue, was down to his side’s proficiency in both boxes rather than a tactical masterplan.

A lot of the games Leeds won in 2016/17 saw them come under sustained pressure, which was ridden out through the last-ditch work of Pontus Jansson and Kyle Bartley, before Chris Wood took the first chance he got. When those three players weren’t at their best, The Whites struggled and they eventually fell short of the play-off places due to a bad run in the final month.

After the Bedford-born boss left Leeds in acrimonious circumstances, he was given possibly the biggest Championship budget of all time at Middlesbrough, who many tipped for automatic promotion. Instead, Monk left in December with the team in ninth.

His tenure on Teesside will be remembered by frequent changes to the tactical approach leading to an apparent lack of identity, as perceived favourites made the eleven as opposed to players who were better suited to the make-up of the team. The likes of Adama Traore and Patrick Bamford, now in fine form under Tony Pulis, made just 12 starts between them under him from a possible 46.

Monk will hope to learn from the mistakes he made at the Riverside and establish a style of play that Blues players can adapt to quickly, with the team two points off safety. He is the best manager the club could have attracted in its current predicament – but his arrival doesn’t immediately signify the end of Birmingham’s problems.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
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