Birmingham promotion spirit 'reborn' at Hull City, says Keith Bertschin
TOGETHER at St Andrews, the coaching union of Steve Bruce and Keith Bertschin twice navigated Birmingham City out of the Championship and into the Premier League.
The Blues are now an obstacle in the way of the pair completing a promotion hat-trick when visiting the KC Stadium on Saturday, but Bertschin believes the spirit of his former club has been reborn at Hull City.
Bruce and Bertschin enjoyed instant success in the Second City when claiming a ticket to the Premier League in their first season during the 2001-02 Championship play-offs. Even after four seasons in the top flight were ended by relegation in 2006, they managed to repeat the trick as Championship runners-up 12 months later.
This weekend's reunion with Birmingham, the club they served for six years, evokes memories of the pair's former glories as the Tigers aim for the Premier League.
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City's 4-1 defeat at Bolton on Saturday may have dented aspirations but Bertschin, City's first-team coach and Bruce's long-serving lieutenant, says the values that contributed towards Birmingham's success are alive and well at the KC.
"We had a great time at Birmingham and you can see similarities here," Bertschin told the Mail.
"Steve came in and got a team together that was similar to this one. They worked hard and they were together, which is a crucial thing for any successful side.
"We also built up a good camaraderie in the squad and around the training ground.
"It's the same here. There's a really good squad here who want to work hard for each other. That takes you a long way.
"The manager brings that to any club he comes to. That's what he's always done. They see where he wants to go and want to go there with him."
The same sentiment extends to Bertschin. After first accepting Bruce's offer of a coaching role at St Andrews in 2001, the 56-year-old has followed him to Wigan, Sunderland and, last summer, East Yorkshire.
Bertschin, along with assistant boss Steve Agnew and reserve-team coach Stephen Clemence (another former Blue), will need to earn their corn this week by helping Bruce to rally the Tigers after a sobering defeat to Bolton. Not since losing to Leeds 4-1 in August 2011 have City suffered such a heavy set-back.
The Tigers' first loss in four enabled red-hot Watford to leap into the driving seat on goal difference, but Bertschin knows the promotion rollercoaster is only beginning.
"It's foolhardy to think any further than your next game," he said.
"The next period is crucial. I hope we can get on a run.
"There will be a hitch somewhere along the line but as long as it's a small one then you have a chance."
Bertschin has seen enough to retain perspective ahead of City's final 12 games.
As a centre forward with Ipswich, Birmingham, Norwich, Stoke, Sunderland and Walsall, he spent almost two decades in the game before injury curtailed his playing days in non-league football.
It was during his time at Carrow Road in 1984 that he first roomed with a "fresh-faced, curly-haired" Bruce, newly-recruited from Gillingham, and for the past 12 years he has spent a matchday as the City manager's eyes from the stand.
"He usually asks for my advice, I give it and then he does the opposite," Bertschin jokes.
With three goals conceded inside the opening eight minutes, his elevated position at the Reebok Stadium will not have made for pretty viewing. The messages relayed to Bruce with City trailing 3-0 will have been equally bleak.
"I usually limit it to two or three key points at half-time and leave it up to Steve if he wants to take it on board," explained Bertschin.
A fourth consecutive home win would soon help banish memories of a "freak performance" at the Reebok and Bertschin knows City have enough leaders to recover quickly.
"You need camaraderie and one or two leaders, when everything else is going sideways, they can still steady a ship and turn it around," he said.
"The games become bigger every step you take and we've got one or two that are terrific characters.
"There's no guarantees but if you stick to your values as a side, you've always got a good chance."