It was a very tough game to watch; as some clever wag on Twitter said, paint watches Birmingham City dry. The forward play was as pedestrian as the average city centre street and lacked any zip or vigour, meaning chances were at a premium.
Weirder still, despite now being allowed to make as many as five substitutes, Karanka opted to make just the one change.
In the past this could be excused by a lack of options on the bench, but Blues have a much stronger squad these days. It could be argued any one of Jonathan Leko, Dan Crowley or Scott Hogan may have changed things for the better.
Of course, it’s just early days in the three-year plan™.
Blues are only 12 games into the season, and it would be excessively demanding to expect Karanka’s charges to be bossing teams every game. The sheer number of new players who have come into the squad alone will mean the team will need time to gel together properly as a unit.
The situation at the end of last season can’t be ignored either. The protracted departure of Pep Clotet did the squad no favours, bar ending the frequent rows between the erstwhile head coach and Blues CEO Ren Xuandong.
While I have no doubt that Wast Hills is a much happier place right now it will still take time for the improvement to mentally sink in; especially for those players like Scott Hogan who seem to thrive on confidence.
And yet despite those hurdles, there has been some noticeable improvement.
Both Harlee Dean and Marc Roberts look like defenders once more, and it’s obvious that they have regained confidence in both their own and the team’s ability. The addition of George Friend seems to have brought a calming influence to the defence, while Mikel San Jose’s vast experience in La Liga shows in the quality of his performances.
If this truly is a three-year project, then I believe Blues have enough in them to lay the foundations this season for a better future – no matter how dour their performances are when looked at individually.
Three years is a very, very long time in football though.
Of the 24 managers in Championship football, only six (Gareth Ainsworth, Paul Warne, Tony Mowbray, Mark Robins, Daniel Farke and Alex Neil) have been in the job for longer than three years. Four of those (Ainsworth, Warne, Robins and Farke) weren’t managing in the Championship last season.
Indeed, of the remaining 18 Championship managers, only Thomas Frank has been in his job for more than two years.
As much as I think it’s essential that Karanka is given time to just stabilise the ship let alone anything else, I am concerned that it might not happen.
I can easily imagine the scene in North London. The elusive Mr King (aka Wang Yaohui) rising from his comfy chair to angrily change the channel, cursing the lockdown which prevents him from at least taking his frustrations out at the casino. Maybe he’s already on the phone to his underlings in Birmingham to find out why this team which has cost him so much money is still struggling to score goals.
There can be no denial that Mr King has sunk millions into the club – even if it’s not entirely clear exactly where the money has come from. For now, the money is still flowing and the partial sale of the club should make it easier for King to continue to pump dough into the team.
Yet, surely there has to be a limit to his patience. In the circular to shareholders in BSH regarding the partial sale of the club, the independent financial advisor has made it plain that without promotion it’s unlikely the club will ever turn a profit.
As such, can we be certain the elusive Mr King will stick with Aitor Karanka for three years?
I think without a crystal ball it’s impossible to know where any of us will be for sure in 2023, and as such it’s impossible to know if any of the current people connected to the club will still be with it then.
However, I do believe that if Blues can pick things up a bit from an attacking perspective, it will help make the short term prognosis a happier one.