With 10 minutes remaining of Birmingham City’s 3-1 defeat by Preston North End on Saturday, the defender Michael Morrison casually passed the ball to his left – but rather than going to a colleague it dribbled straight out of play, a few yards in front of his manager. Harry Redknapp puffed out his cheeks in a manner that suggested he wondered why he was bothering.
Just under two hours after the final whistle, that dilemma was taken out of his hands. “Sacked in the morning,” sang the Preston fans, which turned out to be too optimistic by about 12 hours. Birmingham, perhaps spooked by the enormously uncomfortable scrape of last season when they allowed Gianfranco Zola’s tenure to drift to within a hair of relegation (which Redknapp saved them from), decided six defeats in a row and being second-bottom of the Championship simply would not do.
Redknapp’s dismissal, a little under two hours after the final whistle, was hasty in any number of ways and does not say anything good about the club’s long, medium or even short‑term planning. It is also bad news for the Blues fan who recently got a tattoo of Redknapp leaning out of a car window, although anyone who willingly does that probably has bigger problems.
Before the game the big screens showed a video welcoming Birmingham’s six most recent summer signings. That’s the six who arrived in the closing hours of the transfer window, joining the eight who had joined previously. That those six had not played in front of their home fans only served to emphasise the club’s illogical line of thinking: why allow a manager to completely overhaul a squad, sign 14 players, then show him the door three games later? It is like asking someone to decorate your house but getting rid of them because the paint has not dried in 20 minutes.
“I can’t ever thank him enough for saving us [last season] but it’s time to move on,” the Birmingham director Xuandong Ren tweeted on Sunday morning. “It wasn’t a rush decision and it wasn’t an easy one at all.” One shudders to think what they do consider a rush, if not this. There was relief last year when the last whisps of Carson Yeung’s ownership were wafted away by the Trillion Trophy Asia group but new blood at the top apparently has not brought anything like stability.
In the 11 months since they took control they have sacked Gary Rowett for slightly nebulous reasons, allowed Zola to continue for too long and dismissed Redknapp in what can only be seen as a panic move. If there was any sign of a plan, a clear line of thinking, you could give them the benefit of the doubt. But that is not evident.
At the moment Birmingham look like a collection of people standing around, pointing fingers. It is definitely someone’s fault but it’s not mine, guv. The (now former) manager included. Redknapp’s dismissal was announced 50 minutes after the end of his post-match press conference, during which he spoke to the written media for 13 minutes. In that time he made 19 references to his position being “difficult” or “hard”, mentioned injuries 21 times, pointed to individual mistakes by his players over which he had no control 10 times and intimated once that they failed to follow his instructions.
The only concession to the outlandish idea that it may also be at least partly his fault was when he said: “I take the blame, don’t I? That’s the way the game is.” Hardly the most emphatic mea culpa from a man not shy of claiming credit when things do go well. “What can you do about it?” he said with a shrug. “You stand there as a manager – what can I do about that? What can anybody do?” Well, quite.
Other complaints were scattered in. Even with those 14 arrivals, he wanted more, bemoaning the failure to sign Jordan Hugill, the wall of human flesh in a No9 shirt who scored Preston’s second. The excuse that he “had to play a right-back at left-back” was undermined by the presence of Cohen Bramall on the bench. The open admission that he would rather not have picked the front three who started on Saturday and the comment that the squad has “some good lads here. One or two: not so good” may not have been especially constructive either.
Redknapp has half a point about injuries: new arrivals Carl Jenkinson, Jason Lowe and Jota managed just under 300 minutes between them before all three suffered assorted ailments; Che Adams returned from a hamstring injury against Leeds United and 20 minutes later pulled the other one. But Redknapp was still able to name 11 new arrivals in Saturday’s squad.
It is also worth noting that injuries denied Preston four first-team players, including their captain, and they lost their manager a week after pre‑season training started. Alex Neil replaced Simon Grayson a month before their first game but that disruption was quietly dealt with; they tore Birmingham apart in the second half and are now fourth in the table.
The big difference is that Preston have some semblance of institutional stability, seemingly entirely absent at St Andrew’s. Redknapp may be better off without Birmingham. Birmingham may be better off without Redknapp. But the fans are stuck with this mess.
• At around 4.30pm on Saturday, when Aston Villa named a midfield that featured Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane and Robert Snodgrass, with Henri Lansbury and Josh Onomah on the bench, a man they sold for £50,000 in 2015 was setting up a goal with a pass that would’ve looked at home on a David Silva highlights reel. Daniel Johnson has been one of the Championship’s most quietly impressive playmakers for a few years now, and it was he who orchestrated Preston’s brilliant win over Birmingham, scoring one and creating another. North End look like they’re going to overachieve again: they flirted with the play-offs in both seasons since promotion, but if they carry on their current form, having been the first team to beat Cardiff this season in their previous match, they could do more than that.
• Chris Wilder wasn’t happy on Saturday. Not happy with Sheffield United’s 1-0 defeat to Norwich, but also with the Canaries’ timekeeping. Wilder spent a portion of his post-match press conference bemoaning Norwich’s failure to submit their teamsheet at the appointed hour (“Tell the coach driver to do his job and check if there’s traffic”), their tardiness in emerging for the second half and their apparent time-wasting. Wilder, who was sent to the stands in a rather spicy second half, was also unimpressed with Norwich’s style of play. “I will let you make up your own mind on how we set our team up, how they set their team up and what it represents,” he said. A decent warm-up for next weekend’s Sheffield derby.
• Derby have been the most entertaining side in the Championship for the last few years, combining dominant brilliance with slapstick calamity, seeming to find new and interesting ways to make a mess of perfect promotion situations. That doesn’t look like it’s changed, even with the appointment of a ‘safe pair of hands’ in Gary Rowett: after they bulldozed Hull 5-0 last weekend, on Saturday they lost 4-1 at Bristol City. Rowett admitted the defeat was “embarrassing”, but while he will need to find some sort of consistency if they’re to challenge for promotion, their wild oscillation provides plenty of entertainment for the rest of us.
• You could get 5-4 on Shrewsbury being relegated at the start of the season. But, after eight games of the League One season they’re unbeaten, have only dropped two points, and sit five points clear at the top of the table. They might have been a touch fortunate to win their latest, a 2-1 success against Oldham this weekend, but for the moment Paul Hurst’s side will just be happy not to be struggling.
• Usually, if a team wins a game in the 98th minute having been 1-0 down after 88, you’d expect their manager to be delighted. Not Luton Town’s Nathan Jones, though. After celebrating his side’s win over Wycombe with some gusto, Jones bemoaned his side’s defending, criticised his own team selection and revealed his assistant, Paul Hart, wasn’t happy either. “I’ve just had an absolute rollicking from my assistant in terms of how I prepared for games,” he said. “I’m going to have to change a few things. I respect him, he’s a mentor to me, and I’m going to learn, I’ve learnt today.” Some people are just tough to please.
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