It’s been interesting seeing the change in the outlook of fans over the last few weeks. Even defeat to Blackburn Rovers didn’t really dampen the belief too much, as many are recognising just how far along this team has come since some of the horror shows at the end of last season.
With four games to come in 12 days before the break for the World Cup, there is an increasing belief Blues will go into that intermission in a strong position for the remainder of the season.
While there were definitely doubts in some quarters when Eustace was named as Head Coach, I’d like to think they have been firmly dispelled in the last month or so.
I can only speak for myself, but it’s nice to think about going to games without it feeling like a chore. It’s great to look at a line up and be excited for what they might produce, and to have complete trust in Eustace’s tactics and gameplan.
I think it had become obvious in the last few games at the tail end of last season that Lee Bowyer had completely lost the squad – and I think to be fair, the reverse was also true.
This was encapsulated by the 6-1 defeat to Blackpool which included Bowyer sitting in the dugout by himself at half time, unable to do anything to lift his team.
Contrast that with John Eustace.
Due to Bowyer not getting the push until July 2, Eustace only had four weeks of pre-season available to get his squad fit.
Thanks to Blues’ ongoing financial issues it wasn’t until transfer deadline day that we saw the squad fully come together – and even then, it was without the signing of a striker that seemed so desperately needed.
While all that was going on, Blues were struggling a little on the pitch. After beating Huddersfield Town at St Andrew’s on August 5, it was a month and another six games before Blues would win again.
The pressure was definitely there; especially from prospective new owners who hadn’t chosen Eustace and weren’t sure if he was their man.
Yet there were no complaints from Eustace. No excuses.
The message from within the camp was consistent; that whatever Eustace was given, he would get on with it without complaints. That despite the team being made relegation favourites, he would push the team to give their best every week.
As we head into November, this is exactly what Eustace has delivered.
Blues as a unit look fit, organised and full of desire to play well.
While the goals have taken a little while to come with regularity, Blues have now scored in nine of their last eleven league games. No team in the Championship has conceded fewer league goals.
Not only has Scott Hogan once again found his shooting boots and is scoring regularly, we’re also seeing other players in the team chip in with goals too.
Across the pitch players are contributing to how well the team is playing and doing so with a togetherness which is lifting the fans.
One of the things John Eustace has most impressed me with is how he has dealt with players who had previously been in the doghouse with Lee Bowyer.
I honestly didn’t think there was a way back for Harlee Dean into the team after last season, but Eustace has proved me wrong.
While it might have been injury to Marc Roberts that was the catalyst for Dean’s return to the lineup, I think Roberts is going to struggle to dislodge the current back three from their positions.
Likewise, I thought that Troy Deeney might have written his time off at Blues as a mistake and moved on over the summer. Now, I think we’re seeing what Deeney can offer us, both as a forward and as a captain.
It is still early days this season, but like most people I’m full of hope for what we can achieve.
There are flies in the ointment though.
Short term squad = long term issues
One of the big problems we have right now at Blues is that while right now the first XI is great, at this moment in time there is no longevity in the squad.
Take the team that played QPR on Friday as an example.
Of the eleven that started the game, only Tahith Chong and Scott Hogan are contracted past this season; there is an option of an extra year for Troy Deeney.
Looking through the entire squad, the only defensive players with contracts expiring after the end of this season are Marc Roberts and Zach Jeacock, who both have deals until 2024.
Right now, this isn’t as much of a problem as it could be but if Blues are to continue to evolve and develop as a squad, I think some work is going to have to be done to build at minimum a spine of the squad ready for next season.
For all the good work Craig Gardner has done with transfers in the summer, I think this is where he’s going to earn his corn this winter.
For example, the signing of John Ruddy was a brilliant one. He’s been consistently good for the team and I think he’s a player we need to try and tie down longer than his current deal which expires at the end of the season.
Likewise, I’d like to see Blues work out if there is some way they can do a deal with Max Colin and Harlee Dean that keeps them at the club without continuing the insane deals that their agent negotiated with former CEO Ren Xuandong.
There is also the question of whether Blues can negotiate permanent contracts for some of the players that they have signed on loan this season.
While I don’t think any of those players would be available for buttons, I think there may be an opportunity to sign at least Dion Sanderson or Manny Longelo on a permanent deal.
The biggest question of the winter window is going to be Krystian Bielik.
There have been rumours that Derby want him back for the second half of the season, and as we have seen in previous seasons it is easily possible we could lose the Polish midfielder.
What it comes down to is if there was a recall clause inserted into his loan.
If Derby have put one in place, then they can recall Bielik from his loan spell without Blues being able to do anything about it.
If there is indeed a recall clause in place, it’s imperative that Gardner is acting now to source a replacement for Bielik for the second half of the season, ready to be loaned in at the start of January.
Of course, to offer contracts, pay transfer fees or negotiate loans there needs to be money available – and it is this which is the current elephant in the room.
The Ongoing Ownership Saga
We’re now into the fourth month of the Maxco takeover process, and news of what is going on has petered out to nothing.
All we know for certain is that the EFL are currently going through the approval process for Maxco, and until they say yes nothing more can happen.
This is a really tricky subject to talk about; partly because of how well the team is doing on the pitch.
I’ve found that when things are going well people don’t want to know about anything that may affect it because they want to enjoy the moment.
I can’t argue with this either; life is short enough that true moments of joy should absolutely be seized upon.
Another reason it’s a tricky subject is because of the lack of actual facts out there about the process in the public domain for anyone to form an opinion about.
I’ve heard two conflicting stories about the current situation from excellent sources, and having thought long and carefully about it, I think all I can do is present both and leave it to the reader to decide what they wish to believe.
On the one hand, I have the story from the Maxco camp.
I spoke to a source close to that consortium this weekend, and they told me that while all documentation for proof of funds was in place, they feel that the investigation into the current ownership of BCFC (including Wang Yaohui, aka the elusive Mr King) is holding things up.
They offered the opinion that there may be a lack of trust from the EFL towards BCFC in light of the revelations about the owners and it might be this that was holding things up, more than anything else.
On the other hand, I was offered a different explanation from a source based in the Far East who is close to the owners.
That source told me that the ownership / Wang Yaohui stuff had actually been settled with the EFL, and that the EFL were holding things up due to a lack of documentation of future funding for the club from Maxco.
That source also mentioned that the EFL were unhappy with the social media posts made by Maxi Lopez which insinuated current control over financial matters at the club, and that the EFL wanted reassurance that Lopez was not a proxy figure for the current owners.
While I genuinely do not know what the truth is, the one thing I am certain of is that time has to be running out now.
I think it’s imperative now for Maxco to gain approval for this takeover before Christmas, so that they are in place for the January transfer window.
If It is true that Maxco are funding the club currently (and I have reason to believe that is the case), then I think there has to come a point whereby Maxco want something tangible for the money that they have put in.
I cannot believe that they would want to continue funding the club and transfers in January without approval for their takeover in place.
Whatever the truth about the ownership saga is, I think we as fans would all agree that it should not affect the team on the pitch and the upward trajectory it is currently on.
The time has come for both sides to do what is necessary to get the takeover done.
John Eustace and his squad are delivering results on the pitch, and they’re bringing the fans back. They now need the support to continue delivering and improving.