What Birmingham City can expect from new manager Tony Mowbray - according to a Sunderland fan

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The former Black Cats boss was unveiled as the Blues' new manager on Monday.

St. Andrew's, home of Birmingham City, is a little over five miles away from Cadbury World, door to door. Was this a deciding factor in Tony Mowbray's swift return to football management following his recent departure from Sunderland? We will never know for certain, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes, very probably.

On Monday morning, it was announced that the affable chocoholic had been appointed as the Blues' next permanent manager following Wayne Rooney's sacking after just 83 days in the dugout. In retrospect, it may go down as one of the most disastrous tenures in Championship history. The former England international took City from the edge of the play-offs to the brink of a relegation battle, mining just 10 points from 15 matches. If nothing else, Mowbray can rest assured that he does not have a hard act to follow.

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To that end, the 60-year-old feels like a wonderfully sensible appointment. Few prospective candidates can claim to know the Championship - this writhing, MC Escher sketch of a division - as well as he does. Fewer still would bring with them a more infectiously joyous style of football, or a more soothing and encouraging demeanour.

You see, if there are two things that Tony Mowbray will all but guarantee you, they are good football and good vibes. For the sake of full disclosure, I am a Sunderland fan, and I have to confess that when Alex Neil walked out on us to pursue a life of pottery-based masochism in Stoke last August, I was less than enthused with his replacement. Within weeks, I had gorged myself on humble pie, and felt very, very silly for having doubted Tony at all.

To watch Sunderland last season was to witness, from an aesthetic perspective at least, something quite special. There is a strong argument to be made that nobody in 2023, across the entire breadth of the Championship, was easier on the eye than Mowbray and his plucky gang of kindergarten wizards. Attacking play was razor sharp and intricate, a series of flurrying passing combinations that would bamboozle and disorientate before an incisive sucker-punch was delivered with clinical precision. Possession was often patient and measured, but could unfurl itself into a devastating blitz at the click of a finger, with players flying and surging at the opposition from all angles like a plague of hyperactive locusts.

Defensively, Sunderland were defined by something altogether less tangible under Mowbray. Whether it was a by-product of belief, unity, or a pervasive headiness, the Black Cats were admirable in their blood and thunder approach to the grittier aspects of the game. Bodies and tackles flew, square pegs were jammed into round holes to great effect. Injuries were not kind to Mowbray on Wearside, and by the time the play-off semi-final second leg against Luton Town rolled over the horizon, Sunderland's lack of height and physicality would ultimately come to cost them, but for the most part theirs was a team characterised by an inextinguishable passion.

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And in truth, the fact that Mowbray managed to coax his side to the very cusp of promotion was a monstrous achievement in and of itself. Not only were the Black Cats decimated by injury - (Mowbray was able to name just one recognised defender for that fateful play-off decider at Kenilworth Road, and had no out-and-out striker from the moment Ross Stewart's achilles evaporated in the last week of January) - but he defied the odds with a squad that was, to be blunt, absurdly young.

It was in the face of those apparent troubles that Mowbray's most encouraging traits as a manager really shone, though. He is, in the simplest of terms, a thoroughly decent bloke. From his friendly, Jaffa Cake munching press conferences to his paternal presence around the club, everybody fell head over heels for this warm, kind revelation in his Hugo Boss gilet. The only thing sweeter than his tooth is his disposition.

And that was reflected in the way that his players spoke about him. Right until the end, nobody had a bad word to say about Mowbray, and it is no coincidence that he was able to bring on so many promising young talents as far as he did in such a relatively short period of time. Hell, my dreams of Sunderland re-signing Amad Diallo died the day he left the club, such was the Manchester United winger's adoration for the manager.

Of course, things weren't perfect by any means. Towards the end of Mowbray's stint there was a growing frustration with his apparent refusal to stray away from team selections and tactical approaches that had grown stale and predictable. Others would be quick to remind you that his in-game management, and in particular, his choice of substitutions, was, at times, genuinely baffling.

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But, for the most part, Mowbray was superb, and I will never stop advocating him or the work he did on Wearside. Make no mistake, he joins Birmingham City at a difficult juncture, with a mountain of problems to traverse. If anybody can turn things around and heal the Blues, however, it is Tony.

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