Steve Bruce says that relegation can never be considered a blessing in disguise, even if Birmingham City bounce back to the top flight stronger than when they left it last season.

As Birmingham enter the second half of the season, leading the Championship and looking good for promotion, the manager can feel vindicated. It was his decision to revolutionise the playing staff after their relegation last spring.

He is of the view that setbacks, like when Birmingham lost 7-0 to Liverpool last season or when they lost 1-0 to Norwich City this season, can have a positive effect. But relegation was too much of a setback and too painful.

And yet, when Charlton Athletic were relegated from the Premiership in 1999, they bounced back under Alan Curbishley and, until this season, seemed to benefit from the experience.

Bruce understands the concept of deferred gratification but, having tasted the Premiership, he never wants to be out of that league again. "Relegation was never a blessing in disguise, no," Bruce said. "There have been times when setbacks gave us the kick up the backside we needed, like when we had that little slip in October, but relegation was too much.

"Then we lost 15 players in the summer. And not fringe players, these were first-team players. And we brought in ten, three of whom we have on loan [from Arsenal].

"We needed to rip it up and start again. I have reduced the age of the squad and that is a vital factor. They are young and energetic.

"I suppose nowadays, the way management is, you have to make an instant impact. Yeah, five years at any club, for any manager, is satisfying. I have had to start all over again. I built the first team, in 2002, to try to get into the Premiership. Changing it again, in 2006, has given me a freshness."

Bruce believes that Birmingham are settled into a rhythm wiith some momentum, but are there to be shot at. But he has been in the game long enough to know that the hard work starts now, just as expectations are at their highest.

Promotion at the first attempt is essential — he has little margin for error and knows it — and he is sure to strengthen his squad during the transfer window. "If we have to go in the play-offs, so be it," Bruce said. "But we are getting better and, if we keep improving, we will be there or thereabouts."

Birmingham's match at home to Cardiff City in March has been put back a day after the decision by Sky Sports to televise it live. The fixture was due to take place on Saturday March 3 at noon but will be played on Sunday March 4 (11.30am).