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Roberto Mancini says Robin van Persie has been the difference in Premier League title race

A striking difference: United's signing of Van Persie has changed title race, says Mancini

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 31 December 2012

A meticulous forward planner, Roberto Mancini is already looking ahead to the summer.

Once this season is over, therefore, we can expect some serious interest from Manchester City in centre forwards Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani.

On Monday morning at City's windswept training ground, however, Mancini was looking backwards, as well as forwards.

The difference: Roberto Mancini rues missing out on the signing of Robin van Persie last summer

The difference: Roberto Mancini rues missing out on the signing of Robin van Persie last summer

As he anticipated another close encounter with neighbours Manchester United over the remaining 19 games of the Barclays Premier League season, the City manager returned to the subject of his club's failed attempt to sign Robin van Persie from Arsenal last summer.

As news of their manager's words filtered across to the executive offices at the Etihad Stadium, eyebrows will have been raised.

There is a desire at boardroom level at City for Mancini to stop discussing the what-ifs of last summer's rather disappointing efforts in the transfer market.

Bailed out: Van Persie scored the winner against Manchester City in a thrilling derby encounter

Bailed out: Van Persie scored the winner against Manchester City in a thrilling derby encounter

Improvement: Sergio Aguero has scored half the amount of league goals Van Persie has this season

Improvement: Sergio Aguero has scored half the amount of league goals Van Persie has this season

NASRI TO SERVE THREE-MATCH BAN

Manchester City will be without forward Samir Nasri for today's clash with Stoke at the Etihad Stadium after deciding not to appeal against his three-match ban for being sent off at Norwich on Saturday.

City boss Roberto Mancini disagreed with referee Mike Jones' decision to dismiss Nasri for an apparent butt on Sebastien Bassong in the 4-3 win, but the champions do not want to risk an FA extension to his ban.

Nevertheless, it is also hard to
disagree with Mancini's assertion that Van Persie has so far been a
significant difference between the clubs as United have opened up a
sevenpoint gap over the reigning champions.

City,
it must be said, are short of goals. Van Persie has scored 14 times in
the league so far this season while the champions' quartet of strikers
have managed only 23 between them.

'Robin
van Persie is an important player for them,' said Mancini. 'It's clear
that the difference is this. He has changed the situation.

'We wanted him in the summer because we knew he would be an important player. He is totally different from our other strikers.'

The Van Persie subject came up again after Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport ran an interview with Mancini in which he expressed his regret at not clinching the signing of the Holland forward.

At the heart of the City manager's frustration is that he feels he had a head start on United when he first made contact with the player back in March.

Van Persie has gone on record as saying that he only ever wanted to move to Old Trafford. Mancini's memory of events has always been very different.

Confident: Mancini (left) believes the title race will be close, despite United leading by seven points

Confident: Mancini (left) believes the title race will be close, despite United leading by seven points

He refused to elaborate on what he felt went wrong, showing some diplomacy in saying: 'I know, but I won't say'.

What is known, though, is that City and Van Persie were in constant contact throughout the European Championship and indeed right up until they made him an improved financial offer in the days before he finally plumped for United in August.

'Three or four months earlier, we were there,' said Mancini. 'But there is nothing we can do now.'

In his interview that appeared in his home country yesterday, Mancini suggested that United deserved their current lead in the table.

'Maybe it should be two points instead of seven, though,' he added. Certainly the gap between the two clubs could well narrow over the coming weeks and neither are expected to figure prominently in the transfer window.

Colossus: Yaya Toure will leave City to travel to the Africa Cup of Nations in January

Colossus: Yaya Toure will leave City to travel to the Africa Cup of Nations in January

Stepping up: James Milner is likely to get more game time in Toure's absence

Stepping up: James Milner is likely to get more game time in Toure's absence

Chipping in: Edin Dzeko has fired in eight goals this campaign, including a brace against Norwich

Chipping in: Edin Dzeko has fired in eight goals this campaign, including a brace against Norwich

Mancini is an admirer of Demba Ba but would need somebody to make an offer for Mario Balotelli in order to interfere with Chelsea's interest in the Newcastle striker.

As stated, meanwhile, he will only harden his efforts to prise either Falcao from Atletico Madrid or Cavani from Napoli once he knows what is happening with Balotelli and Edin Dzeko in the summer.

For now, Mancini must hope his current squad manages to find a little extra as they look to rein in Sir Alex Ferguson's team. One of the reasons City's failure to sign Van Persie remains such a disappointment is that the majority of the players they did buy in the summer have made such modest contributions.

Now, with their midfield colossus Yaya Toure about to disappear to the Africa Cup of Nations for a month or so, City need improved performances from the likes of Javi Garcia, James Milner and Sergio Aguero – among others – if they are to produce what they need.

Back in the goals: Mancini had criticised his strikers for being 'soft'

Back in the goals: Mancini had criticised his strikers for being 'soft'

Class act: Van Persie fired in a sumptuous finish at Old Trafford against West Brom

Class act: Van Persie fired in a sumptuous finish at Old Trafford against West Brom

Mancini's mood has calmed a little since a home defeat by United – Van Persie scoring the winner – and a loss at Sunderland.

On Monday he joked about the fact the FA wish to talk to him about comments he made about the referee at Sunderland and even poked gentle fun at his rival from Old Trafford.

'I haven't had the letter from the FA yet,' he said. 'The post in this country is terrible.

'Maybe next time I should run on the pitch at half-time with my hands in the air and shout at the referee.

'This is a joke. This has been a fantastic year for us. I hope that this coming year will be the same.'

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: secrets to his success as Molde manager

As Solskjaer wins another title in Norway, we reveal the secrets to his success… but could he work as a Premier League boss

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UPDATED:

16:02 GMT, 16 November 2012

In England, November is the time of year when football clubs who have had a below par start begin to think about swinging the axe on their manager.

In Norway, or in Molde to be precise, it’s starting to become a month to celebrate after the Tippeligaen side secured back-to-back league titles on Sunday.

Given the history of the club it is a huge achievement and pulling the strings as manager is none other than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

New dawn: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is enjoying instant success in his managerial career at Molde

New dawn: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is enjoying instant success in his managerial career at Molde

Matt Lawton: My memories of Ole

He will always, in my mind, be
responsible for the biggest production nightmare in the history of
sports journalism. A player who succeeded in turning a few journalistic
brains to mush in newspaper offices across London as well as in
Barcelona on that extraordinary night in 1999.

I was there as the
Manchester correspondent for my newspaper that night and the ‘baby-faced
assassin’, as my colleague Steve Millar famously called him, was not a
player who took much interest in the media. He was always polite but
very quiet, which made him the perfect professional in the eyes of Sir
Alex Ferguson.

To his credit, the fame and the adulation never changed
him. He remained a model pro and I’m sure that is one reason why
Ferguson invited him to join the coaching staff when he finally called
time on a distinguished playing career.

The former Manchester United striker
has been a revelation back in his native land since taking over at the
start of last year with the successive top flight championships – the
first two in the club’s 101 year history.

Norway
has hardly been a breeding ground for producing Europe’s finest
managers in years gone by (just ask any Wimbledon fan about Egil Olsen)
but the 'baby-faced assassin's' impressive track record is causing a few
clubs in England to take a keen interest.

Aston Villa even made an approach to take him to Villa Park before appointing Paul Lambert last summer, but the 39-year-old declined on the basis of keeping a settled family back in Molde.

Injury forced Solskjaer to quit playing in 2008 and prior to his current post he had only spent two years managing Manchester United’s reserve side – so what is the secret to his instant success

European adventure: Solskjaer celebrates a goal in this year's Europa League clash against Stuttgart

European adventure: Solskjaer celebrates a goal in this year's Europa League clash against Stuttgart

European adventure: Solskjaer celebrates a goal in this year's Europa League clash against Stuttgart

It can’t all be down to playing under Sir Alex Ferguson for 10 years at United (who he joined from Molde in 1996) as we have seen a few former Red Devils stars struggle to make the conversion from a strong playing career into management.

Solskjaer does admit to pinching a few techniques from the 70-year-old, who he still refers to as boss, including inspiring team-talks and guiding the players on how to eat and dress.

However the managerial brain has always seemed to be inside the former Norway international. He’s been interested in coaching since the age of 10 when he guided other kids in the streets of Kristiansund and revealed in an interview with Sportsmail last year he always took notes while at Old Trafford.

Baby-faced Assassin: Solskjaer celebrates his most famous goal for Manchester United - the injury-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final (below) against Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp

Baby-faced Assassin: Solskjaer celebrates his most famous goal for Manchester United – the injury-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final (below) against Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp

Baby-faced Assassin: Solskjaer celebrates his most famous goal for Manchester United - the injury-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final (below) against Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp

Solskjaer said: ‘That manager was always in me. I was at a stage when I wrote what we did in every single training session and then there was a period in my career when I wrote a mental diary as well.

‘It was quite interesting because I struggled with low confidence at times and I used to write about how I reacted mentally to Roy Keane giving me a b******ing, for example, or missing a chance. I was more alert to how I was thinking.

Molde: not something you'd find on an old dinner plate but a successful Norwegian football club…

Since promotion to the top flight in
1974, Molde have established themselves as one of Norway’s most
respected clubs – although they have been relegated five times since
then.

The recent back-to-back titles may be the first in the club’s
history but they’ve been mighty close before having been runners-up on
seven occasions.

Do they have experience of playing in European competition

European
football comes round often in the form of the Europa League, with the
club featuring in the group stage this term, but they have made a sole
Champions League appearance. Back in 1999 they finished bottom of a
group containing Real Madrid, Porto and Olympiakos.

Where do they play

The Aker Stadion in Molde holds just under 12,000 and is an all-seater stadium that was opened in 1998.

Who’s the club captain

At
37-years-old, Daniel Hestad played with Solskjaer at Molde in the
mid-1990s and has experienced five of the club’s runners-up campaigns.
Save for a two-year spell at Heerenveen between 2003 and 2005, the
midfielder has been at Molde since 1993 and has eight caps for Norway.

Who’s Ole's star man

Solskjaer’s
transfer business look up to scratch too as his second signing at the
club was striker Davy Angan, who has since scored 24 goals in 54 league
games.

‘Towards the end, it was a diary on what the manager was saying and the tactical meetings we had. Different kinds of notes. I still go back to them now but most of it’s in my head.’

It is little wonder Solskjaer’s managerial career has got off to a flying start with preparation like that. It’s rare to see a manager have all the power three in productive training, man management and tactical knowledge – but the Norwegian’s career notes suggest a willingness to learn and understand everything on the pitch and off it.

Even tactically Solskjaer is prepared to develop a number of theories. A 4-3-3 system that features rampaging full-backs is a weapon of choice, but he has experimented with a rigid three-pronged attack supported by three central midfielders…and again rampaging full-backs.

But he isn’t afraid to mix it up either and at times has deployed a 4-4-2 that relies on plenty of width from the full-backs and wingers, and features a forward behind the striker.

And that is not all down to inheriting a strong Molde team – on the contrary. Only a short lived but successful unbeaten eight-game spell under former Manchester City striker Uwe Rosler kept them in the top flight two years ago.

Solskjaer admits he has to do it his way but having only learnt from the best he can’t help but only practice the winning formula.

‘I look at that as the perfect way of running a club.’ he said. ‘In our little world, with different facilities and resources, you have to make it into a mini Manchester United. How the gaffer runs it is a template for everyone. If it’s good enough for United, it’s definitely good enough for Molde.’

So is he good enough for the Premier League Two historic league titles in as many years suggest he deserves a chance and his popularity in England would give him an edge in the running for vacant posts.

It seems inevitable Solskjaer will return to England at some point but judging by his attention to detail, any strings attached like interfering owners or directors of football seem more likely to push him away.

Playing a vital supporting role in his two years at Molde have been his backroom staff which includes former United coach, Mark Dempsey.

It’s another unknown quantity to add to the mix. If he failed to convince the majority of his winning team to join him at a new club, would he struggle to replicate the same relative success

Tactical brain: Solskjaer, who was a canny striker, oversees his team's preparations on the training pitch

Tactical brain: Solskjaer, who was a canny striker, oversees his team's preparations on the training pitch

Tactical brain: Solskjaer, who was a canny striker, oversees his team's preparations on the training pitch

The natural talent for management appears to be there – the trophies confirm that. Solskajer admits to having no hesitation in replacing Sir Alex Ferguson at United once the Scot retires but until he has experience in one of Europe’s biggest leagues, he would be a gamble for any Premier League team.

Molde lack the resources to sustain a credible European challenge until when the trophies are handed out in May, so the Norwegian has already arguably hit the ceiling in Norway.

Solskjaer’s commitment to his family may mean he opts for another year practicing his managerial trade in Norway but he is an ambitious man and November is a month where one or two Premier League clubs advertise a vacancy and make a few phone calls.

Chris Wheeler: Solskjaer is the Fergie of the Fjords

/11/16/article-2234013-022BD43B000004B0-866_306x438.jpg” width=”306″ height=”438″ alt=”Learning from the best: Solskjaer with his long-time boss and mentor at United, Sir Alex Ferguson” class=”blkBorder” />

Learning from the best: Solskjaer with his long-time boss and mentor at United, Sir Alex Ferguson

‘I know for a
fact that one or two of these players won’t be as good next year. They
think they’re Big-time Charlies. So it’ll be thanks and goodbye.’

It
is that ruthlessness and ultra-professionalism that made Solskjaer such a
great player and now one of the most promising young coaches in Europe.

No
wonder the man who has turned down Blackburn and Bolton in recent weeks
dreams of returning to Old Trafford as manager one day.

From the
moment he went back to Molde, he changed the philosophy of the whole
club. The players were made to wear suits and conform to a stricter
routine and diet. Rather than use ice baths, he made them climb down the
rocks behind the club’s Aker Stadion and bathe in the Fannefjord.

‘I
look at United as the perfect way of running a club,’ he said. ‘If it’s
good enough for United, it’s definitely good enough for Molde.’

From
as young as 10-years-old, Solskjaer was displaying a coach’s mentality,
coaching the other kids in the streets of his hometown of Kristiansund
and working on team selections.

Years later, he would take notes on
United’s sessions and even kept a diary of his own thoughts and
insecurities as a player. He still refers to them now.

Sat on the
bench behind Ferguson on so many occasions, United’s superbsub learned
to analyse the game and see it through his manager’s eyes.

It helped
Solskjaer maximise the impact he could have on games, and United fans
loved him for it long before that unforgettable night in Barcelona in
1999.

‘I never had that sulk,’ he said. ‘I always felt privileged
just sitting behind the manager because I had an advantage of watching
the game and thinking tactically.’

Most importantly of all, Solskjaer
is his own man. For all that he has gleaned from United and Ferguson,
he is determined to do things his way.

‘I can’t compromise and be
someone else,’ he said. ‘When I was a player I could never be Giggs,
Scholes, Beckham, Cantona or Keane. It’s the same with the gaffer. He’s
got a few traits that suit me but others that don’t. I try to make that
into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the manager.’

CLICK HERE TO READ CHRIS WHEELER'S BRILLIANT INTERVIEW WITH SOLSKJAER AFTER THEIR MEETING IN NORWAY LAST YEAR

Aston Villa, Wolves, West Brom, Birmingham and Coventry – season review

Season review part 1 – Aston Villa, Wolves, West Brom, Birmingham and Coventry

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UPDATED:

23:17 GMT, 24 May 2012

Gone: Alex McLeish

Gone: Alex McLeish

It's that time of year folks…now that the season is over, it's time for yours truly to look back at the good, bad, indifferent and downright ugly during the past season of Midlands football.

It has not been a vintage year by any stretch of the imagination. Financial issues, managerial issues, player issues. Sadly for us all in this region, we haven't had a lot to cheer.

This week, I'll cover the west Midlands. The east is next week. Apologies in advance to Notts County, Walsall, Kidderminster etc. Sadly, I can't get around to you all.

I'm going to break down my ratings into three categories. The board, manager and players, giving marks for each. The other component of any club – its' support – is also mentioned, but not marked.

There is a reason for this. Every supporter, by default, gets a 'A+' rating, but I'd like to say a few words, particularly this season, as it's been a difficult one for our fans on a number of different levels.

Just to re-iterate the following as well. Stoke City are sited in north Staffordshire which is (as far as I'm concerned) part of the Midlands. But as the Potters are, historically speaking, covered from a national newspaper's Manchester offices, they are excluded. Sorry, not my fault.

So, we'll kick-off with the highest-placed Midlands team which is…

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

West Brom Albion's Graham Dorrans

All that has been missing from the Baggies' season is a decent cup run.

How fantastic is it to be able to write that about a team which, before Roy Hodgson turned up, found it a struggle to remain the Premier League

Despite a few hiccups at home, particularly in the early part of the campaign, there was little doubt that West Brom would stay up by some distance.

It really is a remarkable achievement for the Baggies to finish above Villa and come within a whisker of completing league doubles over both of their rivals in the top-flight. And Hodgson did it by backing his own judgement in the transfer market too.

Gareth McAuley, a free transfer, has particularly impressed. Shane Long will come good again, once he re-discovers his fitness. And the signing of Liam Ridgewell has been, pound for pound, one of the best pieces of business carried out in the past 12 months.

Some statement, I know. But just look at how adept Ridgewell is – as a former centre-half – at defending his back post and covering Jonas Olsson.

James Morrison has come on leaps and bounds. Ben Foster took a while to settle but he grew in confidence and was performing as well as he ever did at Birmingham City by the end of his loan spell.

All this without Peter Odemwingie reaching the heights of his first full season.

There has been a distinct change in the pattern of play. I lost track of the number of times that West Brom lost goals on the counter-attack during Tony Mowbray's season in the Premier League. And it was a characteristic under Roberto di Matteo, too.

That does not happen any longer. And Roy Hodgson has to be credited with that, as so much else. Just look at the number of club records that fell. First win over Villa since 1985, first win at Villa Park since 1979, first win at Anfield in 45 years….

As long as Foster returns and West Brom recruit a safe pair of hands as 'head coach', even with the squad they have now, it should be enough for them to be a top-flight team in 12 months' time.

Board – 4 Manager – 5 Players – 4

ASTON VILLA

Grant Holt of Norwich City battles with Eric Lichaj of Aston Villa

Oh dear. Where do we start

With the ill-judged appointment of Alex McLeish With a group of under-performing players With a 54m loss

It has to be with the cause of a great deal of the angst at Villa Park this season. McLeish's arrival from Birmingham City.

Five hundred people protested at Villa Park last summer. That should have given the powers-that-be a hint as to the depth of feeling.

But it went unanswered. Ignored even as business returned to 'normal.'

There was tangible evidence from the first pre-season friendly of the season, against Walsall, that McLeish would be up against it.

The supporters sang for the team. Not once for the manager.

It was to be the default setting for a season in which there was little cheer.

The highlight was the win at Stamford Bridge. It was followed 48 hours later by chants of 'You don't know what you are doing' as Swansea City took the pass at Villa Park.

From pretty much there on in, it turned increasingly sour.

Much as there was to admire about Alex McLeish's blind determination to ignore the reality of the situation, his responses in public undermined his credibility – and therefore his position – still further.

Eventually, the players were ground down by the negativity. Of course, injuries didn't help.

Having attended the majority of matches at Villa Park, I will take issue with anyone who says Villa's supporters did not give the manager a chance.

But he failed to take it. His signings, for instance, were (with the exception of Shay Given) poor.

In the end, there was a vicious maelstrom sweeping around the club.

There had to be a sacrifice. And it was a public one at that. Bolton at Villa Park was merely the hors d'oeuvres.

Carrow Road was the venue as Villa's fans signalled McLeish's end.

Look down the squad list and ask yourselves whether Villa should have won more than 38 points.

Look down the balance sheet and ask yourselves whether Villa should be paying 90 per cent of the club's turnover in wages.

Look at the manager and think: 'Was this the best appointment we could have made' Aston Villa have fallen short on every front this season. It cannot happen again.

Because next time, if they win 38 points, they might not be as lucky.

Board: 2 Manager: 1 Players: 2

WOLVES

Gary Caldwell of Wigan Athletic in action with Kevin Doyle of Wolverhampton Wanderers

What a bizarre season that was at Molineux.

Ultimately, it has to be seen as a write-off. When you finish bottom of the pile, it can't be seen as anything but.

Having said that…

There was a short spell – which lasted approximately 15 minutes – when I actually thought Wolves were onto something.

At the interval during the home derby against Aston Villa, it had all been going swimmingly.

Emmanuel Frimpong was providing drive and power in midfield, Karl Henry was snapping away and Michael Kightly was rolling back the years.

Wolves were leading 2-1 and were full value. Only what happened thereafter set the club on the road back into the Championship.

Frimpong was accidentally booted in the face by Stiliyan Petrov. Henry was sent-off for senselessly kicking out at Marc Albrighton and Kightly tired.

It fell to Robbie Keane to thump home a quite magnificent winner. And the campaign pretty much fell to pieces.

Just like at Villa Park, it was almost too painful to watch.

Mick McCarthy felt the full force of the South Bank's anger. Owner Steve Morgan then felt it necessary to speak to the fans after he copped an earful after he had caved in and sacked his manager – despite not having been present at the Black Country derby mauling.

Then it was Jez Moxey's turn. Quite what the chief executive had done wrong, I'm still trying to figure out…

The perfect storm was created after McCarthy's exit. Which wasn't helped by Roger Johnson's decision to stay out late after the five-goal thumping at Fulham.

Terry Connor did his best. Both to gather together a group of players and send Johnson to Coventry. (There's a thought)

It was never going to be enough. Wolves missed their big opportunity. Which was to strengthen last summer when, in all fairness, they stayed up by the skin of their teeth.

It's easy to say that now, of course. No-one was pointing that out to McCarthy. No-one questioned whether Johnson was a good signing at the time, for instance.

Yes, we are all professors in 20-20 vision.

But the board has to be applauded for running the club along strict financial lines.

If Wolves had stayed up, Morgan would be heralded as a visionary for trying to increase revenue streams by re-building the North Bank.

As it is, he's been accused of not spending enough cash on the team. It is a charge he denies.

Personally, I'd have kept McCarthy in charge. If only for the fact that with no possibility of bringing in playing reinforcements that no other boss could have got any more out of that group.

It matters not now. What happened was that a bitter fan-base struck out in pretty much every direction, hurt and upset at what was unfolding. It's never pretty but this was unedifying.

But things can change quickly in football. Stale Solbakken's arrival was left-field.

I just sense a tingle of excitement returning to the club. I think it's possibly fear of the unknown. I don't think there will be any half-measures next season. Morgan's first appointment could be very interesting.

Board 3 Manager 2 Players 2

BIRMINGHAM CITY

Henri Lansbury of West Ham holds off pressure from Wade Elliot of Birmingham

Shorn of its' manager, with its' owner on a charge of money-laundering and players leaving by the week to pay off debts, there was no doubt that this was a difficult situation to manage.

But, buoyed by a calm hand on the tiller, a few sensible purchases and – it has to be said – the makings of a competitive, if threadbare, squad that had been left behind, the good ship Birmingham City managed to sail to waters that few thought possible last August.

Chris Hughton was Capt. Sensible. He has maintained his composure and never once looked to forces outside his control for an excuse.

If any Birmingham City supporter had been canvassed as to their likely position come the end of the season, most would have shrugged their shoulders and said that staying in business and in the Championship would have been a result.

However, there was Europe to look forward to. And what a boon that turned out to be. For everyone. Players, supporters, the manager.

It provided a welcome distraction. And one of the best goal celebrations seen for many-a-year when Chris Wood poked home in the last few seconds against Club Brugge.

Sadly, it did not continue after the group stages. But it had drawn together a group of players who were languishing in 14th spot around Christmas.

With Steve Caldwell taking over as Mr Dependable at the back alongside a revitalised Curtis Davies and improved David Murphy, there were the makings of a back-four that wasn't going to give too much away.

Up front, Chris Burke – free from injury – and Marlon King – provided impetus when it was needed. It shouldn't be forgotten either that both of those signings were Alex McLeish's. Then, there is the likes of Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland in particular.

It wasn't to be in the play-offs. That may be a blessing.

The absence of any interference from above was an undoubted help to Hughton who has manfully stepped into the breach.

But the financial issues remain. And Hughton has now re-established credentials that were damaged – however unjustly – by his experience at Newcastle.

If a takeover is in the offing, as predicted by Peter Pannu before the Blackpool game, it needs to be swift and bloodless, to give the manager time to re-group before the players reconvene in July.

But this is Birmingham City. Nothing is ever simple. The Carling Cup final victory wasn't. Relegation wasn't.

The complicated make-up of the shareholding of parent company Birmingham International Holdings Limited may dictate that the coming weeks are difficult.

For Blues' fans, it's time to hold onto your nerve and trust in Pannu to get it sorted. Or else, with cash sure to be in an issue, it could all get very messy later this summer.

Board: 2 Manager: 4.5 Players: 5

COVENTRY CITY
Frank Nouble of West Ham is tackled by Richard Keogh of Coventry

IF Birmingham City supporters think they have it tough, they should just take a look down the A45.

Coventry City have been spinning around in ever-decreasing circles since they slipped out of the Premier League 11 years ago.

And now they will be repeating the feat – and let's not beat about the bush here – in Division Three.

As I wrote in a blog last week, it is difficult to see any other solution to the problem than someone with a nine-figure sum of cash to come in and wipe the slate clean.

However, such fairytales only happen in Manchester, or west London, it seems. (And, what a surprise, one won the Premier League, the other the Champions League, but I digress.)

Against that backdrop, it's difficult to judge just how good a job Andy Thorn did.

The fact that the Sky Blues were relegated with one game left to go is something. The club looked dead and buried at Christmas and the sale of Lukas Jutkiewicz seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.

But no. Coventry also have a habit of raising expectations before dashing them in spectacular fashion. And so it was here.

To Thorn's credit, the Sky Blues were competitive in most games. They did not suffer an out-and-out thumping.

If there is one criticism of his players, it's that they didn't learn from their mistakes.

It was almost painful to witness and read about on Sunday morning. It was like Groundhog Day.

In the end, even Thorn couldn't disguise his anger, sniping at a board that seems incapable of stemming a flow of cash away from the club.

Strategic problems remain at the Ricoh. Unless it is sorted, the club will continue on its' spiral downwards.

Several 'big' clubs have found it difficult to escape from League One, even if they present a united front.

It looks like being another hard season at the Ricoh. That division is no place for a financially-fractured club to plot its' return.

Board: 2 Manager: 3 Players: 3 Supporters: 5