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Dugout Blues: Rocky start for Zola in Birmingham

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The first Dugout Blues of 2017 reveals things aren’t going rosy for Zola in the second city. Things are looking up for Dan Petrescu, who got a big payday this Christmas.

Birmingham City V Brentford- Sky Bet Championship

WINLESS IN BIRMINGHAM

Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola is still looking for his first win in charge of Birmingham City. After a loss to division-leading Brighton to begin his stint in the Brummies’ dugout, Zola saw his team lose 1-0 to Derby at Pride Park on December 27th. Things improved on December 31st when Zola’s men battled back from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw away at Barnsley. However, two days later, Birmingham were sunk at home by Brentford, 3-1, in what was ostensibly their easiest game of the holiday period.

The poor run has Birmingham languishing in 13th place in the Championship, seven points back of the play-off positions. It’s not a disastrous run of results, and the league position has plenty of potential, but things at Birmingham were ticking along just fine before Zola arrived. So the pressure is surely on for the Sardinian maestro to improve over the second half of the season as Birmingham attempt to nick a play-off spot.

Tianjin Teda v Jiangsu Suning - CSL Chinese Football Association Super League Round 10 Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

ELSEWHERE

Dan Petrescu has been doing alright in the United Arab Emirates. His Al Nasr team is on a three game win streak, after victories over Al Jazira (2-0) on December 17th, Emirates Club (1-0) on December 23rd, and Dubai Club (1-0) on December 27th. The win over Dubai Club was in the President’s Cup (UAE’s version of the FA Cup), but the other two wins were in the league. Despite the points, Al Nasr remained sixth in the table, thanks to the top clubs also having good spells.

Along with three wins over the festive period Petrescu had other reasons to be happy. According to Romanian outlet GSP, Petrescu was recently awarded €500,000 from a lawsuit he brought against his former employers, Kuban Krasnador. Petrescu, who is nicknamed ‘The Badger’ in the Romanian press, joined Kuban in June 2016 (after being fired from Jiangsu Suning months earlier). Petrescu left Kuban in October, and has since stated this was because the club was refusing to pay to him. If Kuban refuse to pay Petrescu this time, FIFA will ban them from performing any transfers.

A bit further east, Gus Poyet and Shanghai Shenhua are in the middle of the Chinese Super League’s offseason, which basically means they’re splashing the cash left, right, and center as they look to improve on last season’s fourth place finish. On December 29th it was revealed (by BBC Sport and others) that Shenhua had dropped £40m on former West Ham, Manchester United, and Manchester City player Carlos Tevez and are paying him a world record weekly salary in excess of £600,000 (before taxes). The 32-year-old forward had been playing for Boca Juniors in Argentina.

Back in Europe, Scotland to be precise, David Hopkin is still top of League One with Livingston, despite his losing two in a row. On Christmas Eve they lost 2-1, at home, to Queen’s Park and on New Year’s Eve they lost 2-1, away, at East Fife. Before those losses Livi had won five on the trot.

In England, Slavisa Jokanovic and Fulham had a mixed holiday period. They beat Ipswich 2-0 on Boxing Day, but lost 2-1 to Brighton on January 2nd. On December 30th Fulham’s game against Reading at the Madejski Stadium was called off at half time due to fog. That game will be replayed at some point in the season. Currently Fulham sit 6th in the Championship, six points off the play-offs.

Ritchie Hanlon and Paul Hughes are in the thick of a relegation fight with Hayes & Yeading in the Southern Premier League. On the December 27th they were up two goals versus Slough, at home, only to lose the game 3-2. On January 2nd the co-mangers faced their old club Kings Langley, and lost 1-0. Right now Hayes & Yeading are 22nd in the league, having lost 9 of their last 13 games.

A league below them, Micky Hazard and Hadley FC are also struggling. They find themselves 19th in the Spartan South Midlands Football League’s Premier Division. They lost 2-0 away to Cockfosters on December 27th.

RUMOUR MILL

On December 8th the Evening Standard revealed that a trio of Chelsea greats were on the brink of beginning their own odysseys into the ups and downs of football management. According to that report Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, and John Terry are set to be offered assistance from the English Football Association to gain coaching badges and experience within the national set-up. Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes were also mentioned as being offered the same opportunity.

The report states that these players may be asked to participate with coaching England development teams en route to gaining UEFA A and Pro Licenses.

TOP VID

With Zola now plying his trade at Birmingham City, this month’s Top Vid celebrates one of the best games Chelsea and Birmingham ever played. It was the opening day of the 2007/08 season. The scene: Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea entered the game undefeated in 63 previous games at the Bridge, which equaled a record held by Liverpool at Anfield between 1978 and 1980. A win would make Chelsea sole possessors of the record, but it wouldn’t come easy.

Birmingham struck first, against the run of play, through a Mikael Forssell goal (how could you Mikael?!) on the 15 minute mark. However, Chelsea would answer just two minutes later, drawing level with a rare Claudio Pizarro goal. Florent Malouda gave Chelsea the lead on the half hour mark, but Birmingham made it 2-2 just five minutes later, through Olivier Kapo. Chelsea would get the last laugh through a trademark Michael Essien thunderbolt (aided by dodgy goalkeeping) though.

Here is that Moment of Essi-zen, courtesy of YouTuber chelseafc316613.

Chelsea would extend the record to 86 games, before losing to Liverpool 1-0 on October 26th, 2008.