Derby County expert tells Birmingham City what to expect in League One - and mistakes to avoid

Birmingham City can take inspiration from a number of clubs who have dropped into League One in recent years and avoid the mistakes of others.

Some, such as Leeds United, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth – who have only just returned to the Championship after a 12-year absence which included four years in League Two – have struggled to escape it, but others have breezed it. Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers bounced back at the first time of asking in 2010 and 2014 respectively.

There are others – Southampton and Ipswich Town – who didn’t quite manage it in one, but they did achieve back-to-back promotions to reach the Premier League. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Derby County is an example Blues can take some heart from. The Rams were in financial disarray when they went down in 2022 under a certain Wayne Rooney and narrowly missed out on the play-offs in 2023.

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But, with League One promotion specialist Paul Warne at the helm, Derby returned to the Championship at the second time of asking this year. Rams reporter Leigh Curtis said: “What cost them in the first season was that they had the smallest squad in the league and it was an ageing one too. By the end, they just ran out of steam physically and missed out on the top six on the final day with a defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.

“Looking back Paul Warne said his biggest error was not strengthening the squad in January with better additions that came in on loan, but the club couldn't go out and buy who they wanted because they were under restrictions from the EFL post-administration in which there was a cap on wages and they couldn't pay transfer fees too. I don't think anybody expected them to get promoted in their first season given the lack of preparation, the change in manager and so on. Birmingham will at least have good time to get ready for what is a very tough league.”

Blues should have a considerably larger budget than Derby had in their first season in League One. With the financial muscle of American investment firm Knighthead, Blues should be able to blow most, if not all, of their League One rivals out of the water.

Having the best players doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, though. Almost every team that plays Blues next season will see the game as a cup final.

Curtis added: “Birmingham will find League One takes no prisoners. Going to places like Stevenage where the pitches are tight, means you're always in a battle. And if you don't have substance to go along with the style, forget it.

“Teams like Stevenage will make life so difficult, the same as Shrewsbury and teams of that ilk. They will run at you, they see you as a scalp and they don't care about reputations and even at Pride Park, they were no pushovers.”

Blues have a few issues to iron out first. Who will lead them? Which players will stick around? Who will they sign? So much will change between now and the start of pre-season training. Preparation has to be perfect to avoid any hangover.

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