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End-of-season report: Birmingham City

Sports Mole picks apart a season which started badly, but vastly improved for Birmingham City in the Championship.

After miraculously staying up on the final day of last season, Birmingham City supporters were hoping for a more serene campaign in 2014-15.

Lee Clark went mad when Paul Caddis kept the Blues in the second tier a year ago, but he couldn't stabilise the club this season.

After just two wins in their opening 12 games, Clark was sacked on October 20 last year and soon replaced Burton Albion's Gary Rowett.

Birmingham pulled away from the drop zone with a run of seven wins in 11 and although they stuttered early in 2015, Rowett's men achieved a top-10 finish with three 1-0 wins on the bounce to close the season.

All in all, a successful turnaround under Rowett and plenty to build on for next season.


Five key results

Birmingham 1-0 Brighton & Hove Albion, September 30, 2014: Heading into their first home league game of the season, Birmingham hadn't won at St Andrew's since October 1, 2013 - a run of 18 Championship games. That was quickly put right when the Seagulls visited as Wes Thomas's goal shortly after half time was enough for victory. Unfortunately, it didn't spark an improved run of results at home as five defeats and two draws followed before Rowett's arrival.

Clayton Donaldson of Birmingham City tangles with Aaron Hughes of Brighton & Hove Albion during the Sky Bet Championship match between Birmingham City and Brighton & Hove Albion at St Andrews (stadium) on August 16, 2014© Getty Images

Birmingham 0-8 Bournemouth, October 25, 2014: Clark had been sacked earlier in the week and, after a 1-0 defeat at Blackburn Rovers under caretaker boss Malcolm Crosby, next was a visit from high-flying Bournemouth. The Blues were just above the bottom three before kickoff, but that wasn't the case two hours later. Brett Pitman gave the Cherries the lead inside three minutes and soon after the hosts were down to 10 men when David Edgar saw red. What followed was catastrophic as Bournemouth scored seven more and Birmingham missed a penalty. It was a record home defeat for the Blues and showed just how badly a new manager was needed.

Birmingham 2-1 Watford, November 4, 2014: Rowett was brought in after the humiliation at the hands of Bournemouth and he quickly solidified things at the back, guiding the Blues to a goalless draw at nearby Wolverhampton Wanderers. Next was another daunting home game against then league leaders Watford. Birmingham had scored just four goals in seven winless games, but soon took the lead through Clayton Donaldson in the second minute. Watford hit back quickly and another disappointing performance was expected. However, Birmingham held off the Hornets and grabbed a late winner of their own as Donaldson sent St Andrew's wild.

Birmingham 6-1 Reading, December 13, 2014: Seven points out of nine had been collected from the next three games before Rowett's unbeaten start came to a halt away at Blackpool, now managed by Clark. Still, Birmingham were unbeaten at home under Rowett and that streak was extended to four games as Reading were blown away. Early goals were becoming a regular occurrence at St Andrew's, this time it was Caddis who opened the scoring before the five-minute mark. What followed was a stunning 34-minute hat-trick from teenage sensation Demarai Gray, as well as a first goal of the season for Andrew Shinnie and David Cotterill's fourth of the campaign. All seven goals came before the hour mark on a rampant afternoon.

Derby County 2-2 Birmingham, March 7, 2015: A run of nine winless games in January and February, Birmingham had got back to winning ways with 1-0 wins over Brentford and Blackpool. Next was a trip to title-chasing Derby County and it looked like their unbeaten streak would come to an end as they were 2-0 down at the 90-minute mark. What followed was an astonishing comeback as Caddis and Donaldson scored in the third and sixth minutes of injury time to rescue a point for the visitors.


Best Player - David Cotterill

Birmingham City's David Cotterill carries the ball forward during a Championship match against Charlton Athletic on October 4, 2014© Getty Images

Birmingham's most consistent performer throughout the entire campaign in his first season for the club. The Welsh international scored nine goals and an impressive seven of those came from outside the area - no player in the league had more strikes go in from at least 18 yards.

As well as the goals, Cotterill was also key for his teammates and, according to WhoScored, he averaged more key passes per game than anyone else in the Championship. He directly set up eight of the Blues' goals and will be a key player for Rowett to hold on to this summer.


Most Improved Player - Andrew Shinnie

The Scot started in the opening-day defeat at Middlesbrough but was then dropped from the first XI until Rowett came in. From that point on he was a regular starter in a freer role behind the strikers and flourished under the former Burton boss.

He could only match last season's goalscoring total of two, but Blues fans were impressed with his progression under Rowett and will be hoping that he can add more goals to his improved displays next season.

Birmingham City's Andrew Shinnie in action during a Championship encounter with Middlesbrough on February 18, 2015© Getty Images


Best Signing - Michael Morrison

We've already sung the praises of Cotterill, who was an astute capture by Clark. Morrison was Rowett's only permanent signing during the season and he helped shore up the backline - Birmingham kept clean sheets in eight of the 21 games he started for the club.


Best Goal - Demarai Gray vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

As mentioned, Cotterill scored plenty from outside the box, but our pick is the solo effort by Gray against Wolves in April. The Blues had fallen behind early, but came out on top 2-1, with Gray scoring an electrifying winner. He surged away from the edge of the box and then won the ball back deep in Wolves territory before coolly finishing into the net.


Must Do Better - Mark Duffy

Like Cotterill, joined Birmingham from Doncaster Rovers last summer. While Cotterill thrived for his new club, Duffy struggled, making just one league start all season. He had a brief loan spell back in League One with Chesterfield, but couldn't help the Spireites, who lost all three games in which he appeared.

He has one year left on his contract at St Andrew's and will need to improve this season if he is to extend his stay with the club.


End-of-season grade: B-

The transformation has been mightily impressive under Rowett, who was certainly one of the top managers in 2014-15. A top-10 finish would have been laughed at after some of the results under Clark, but now Birmingham will rightly be targeting a top-six place next season after Rowett has had his first pre-season with the team. Anything less would be a step backwards. Rowett will be targeting another goalscorer to help Donaldson and more dynamism is needed in midfield. They have lost number one keeper Darren Randolph and replacing him will also be a priority.

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Clayton Donaldson of Birmingham City celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between AFC Bournemouth and Birmingham City at Goldsands Stadium on April 6, 2015
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ChinaChina29171662
United StatesUnited States22251764
JapanJapan1761033
AustraliaAustralia1441533
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Great BritainGreat Britain11121235
Today's Olympic highlights header

Tuesday's key events


DIVING
· Team GB duo Jack Laugher - silver medallist in Rio - and James Heatly take part in the men's 3m springboard semi-final (2am), and will hope to qualify for the final later in the day (7am)

ATHLETICS
· Two Britons are involved in the women's long jump final, but Abigail Irozuru and Jazmin Sawyers have their work cut out to get a spot on the podium (2.50am)
· Norwegian Karsten Warholm, who broke the world record just last month, goes for gold in the men's 400m hurdles final. USA's Rai Benjamin is expected to be his main challenger (4.20am)
· Great Britain have three representatives in the final of the women's 800m, with Jemma Reekie having perhaps the best chance of a medal (1.25pm)
· A mouth-watering women's 200m final sees Elaine Thompson-Herah go for the prestigious sprint double after claiming the 100m crown. Compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Namibia's Christine Mboma and USA's Gabrielle Thomas are expected to be her main competitors (1.50pm)

SAILING
· The rescheduled women's skiff 49er FX (4.33am) and men's skiff 49er (5.33am) come to their conclusion, with Team GB involved in both medal races
· Defending champion Giles Scott bids for a second successive gold in the Finn class medal race (6.33am)
· There is another medal chance for Team GB in the mixed Nacra 17 medal race (7.33am)

ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS
· Team GB's Joe Fraser takes part in the parallel bars final, kicking off the final day of artistic gymnastics (9am)
· USA superstar Simone Biles, who has been forced to pull out of all of her finals so far, is on the starting list for the beam final as she bids for a fifth Olympic gold (9.50am)

FOOTBALL
· The men's semi-finals take place, with Mexico taking on Brazil first up (9am)
· The winner of that first semi-final will face either hosts Japan or Spain (2pm)

CYCLING
· Laura Kenny will look to win a third straight Olympic team pursuit gold medal. Team GB take on United States in their heat (7.44am), with the gold medal race later that day (9.26am)
· Laura's husband and fellow Olympic legend Jason Kenny will also look to continue his huge success in the men's team sprint - an event he has won gold in at every Games since 2008. Team GB will first need to get through the men's qualifying (7.58am), with the gold medal race ending the session (9.44am)

BOXING
· Pat McCormack will be looking to achieve his dream of Olympic gold when he faces Cuba's Roniel Iglesias (11.05am)

> Today's schedule in full
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