Unfortunately the Baggies game comes too soon for seasoned pros like Harlee Dean, Gary Gardner and Przemyslaw Placheta, which means Eustace may once again only have younger players in the squad to call upon in his matchday squad.
Although we have seen the squad bolstered with signings brought in on deadline day and the return to fitness of Krystian Bielik, against Preston Blues finished with a teenage midfield trio of Jordan James, George Hall and Jobe Bellingham, while against Norwich no less than five academy players were involved including Tate Campbell on his league debut.
It’s made the Head Coach job very difficult for John Eustace and when asked about it in the press conference before the postponed Swansea game, it brought about an impassioned four and half minute response, as reported by Brian Dick in the Birmingham Mail.
I’ve talked to Brian about Eustace’s answers since the press conference, and Brian told me straight that it was very unusual as Eustace is like most managers, offering a one- or two-line anodyne response in pressers to questions.
Clearly the question about younger players tickled a nerve and caused Eustace to unload his thoughts in what was a passionate answer when asked if he was worried about his job.
“When we are getting questioned ‘That’s three in a row now’. Yeah, I am not stupid, I know where we are, but come on guys, look at the bigger picture. This isn’t Birmingham City with Premier League wages, millions and millions of pounds, a massive squad of top players. This is Birmingham City in a transitional period now, starting again.
The Preston result broke a sequence of defeats which undoubtedly will have released some of the pressure that was building on Eustace, and I think he has a point about the fans having to realise where the squad is right now.
One of the chief issues with playing younger players at the start of their career is that there is going to be inconsistency in their levels of performance. The step up from the u21 side to the first team is huge and requires not only a jump in the levels of physicality and skill, but also in the mental side of the game.
I can remember being told many years back by former u21 coach Richard Beale that the thing that held younger players back most of all was mentality; being able to make the transition from breaking into the first team to being able to consistently perform at that level.
In essence this means that rather than viewing making the first team as the destination in a young player’s career, it needs to be seen as a step in their development and that they need to continue to improve to hold onto that place.
With Blues currently having to rely on so many younger players to make up the first team squad, there are going to be some games where young players look like world beaters and some games where they can’t beat an egg. It’s where the club is right now financially, and fans are going to have to be patient with younger players.
While Brian told me that Eustace was making that point towards the fans in this answer, I think that there is another layer to Eustace’s thinking.
It’s my thought that Eustace was making this point about younger players as a point towards the people running the club; whether it’s the incumbent owners or the Maxco consortium.
I think Eustace is too smart to complain about a lack of additions to the squad in certain areas of the pitch; instead he’s making the point that while he is getting on with it everybody needs to accept that young players aren’t going to turn into regular first teamers overnight.
He’s also smart to point out that by playing these young players and developing them, Eustace is developing assets for the club.
While the painful truth is that some players won’t make it and that the peak of their career may be in these few performances at Championship level, there is also no doubt in mind that some will and are already building a reputation that will see other clubs looking at them.
It always hurts to see younger players depart the club before they have a chance to make their names at St Andrew’s, but right now being able to develop and sell players is part of the ticket to financial self-sustainability which will benefit the club in the long run, whoever owns it.
I’m fairly sure most reasonable Blues fans are in agreement with Eustace and are happy to give these younger players a bit of time to make their mark. My feeling is that while I doubt Blues will be challenging at the top half of the table this year, we might still have something to be proud of come the end of the season.