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Fahey's lofty ambition

In the top eight teams in England; level on points with fallen giants Liverpool; unbeaten in 14 games; on course for a place in Europe and a possible FA Cup run; a full house every home game.

Does it get any better than this if you play for or support Birmingham City Football Club?

"That's what we keep telling ourselves, enjoy the run while it lasts and try to keep it going as long as possible because, who knows, this could be as good as it gets," says Birmingham midfielder Keith Fahey, who has played in 19 of the club's 25 games this season.

"Outside of the club people keep talking about us qualifying for Europe, going on a record run, getting ahead of Liverpool, stuff like that, but that's not even discussed within the squad, and that's being honest.

"We really are trying to keep a level head and not let ourselves get carried away. It's an easy thing to do, go on a run and get over-excited about it. Look at Hull last season, they had a brilliant start to the year and I think they only won one game after Christmas. That could easily be us, if we start shooting our mouths off about getting into Europe we could easily go on a losing run and drop down the table very fast.

"We only came up at the end of last season so the aim was to stay up. We're eighth in the table now and that's a very nice place to be, but as long as we finish no lower than 17th, we'll be happy and we'll have had a good season. That's not a lack of ambition as everyone at this club is ambitious, we all want to do well, but if we stay out of the bottom three this season then we'll have had a great year, anything else is a bonus," added Fahey.

"Don't get me wrong, we're happy to be in this position now, eighth is a great place to be. The whole club is buzzing because of what we have done in the past few weeks and months; the fans are very happy. I think Birmingham is one of the best places you could be in English football now. But nothing lasts forever, we'll enjoy it while it lasts and hope we can keep this up for a bit longer."

Today was a busy day for the man from Tallaght, as Fahey and his team-mates had a 150-mile trip south to prepare for tomorrow's Premier League game with Portsmouth. He will have been kept busy enough on the trip, fielding calls and texts to wish him well, not just for the game but also for his birthday today, as the midfielder turned 27.



COMPETITION

There was something else on his mind, though, a new face on the team bus. Spanish midfielder Michel completed his move to St Andrew's from Sporting Gijon during the week and joined the squad for the first time for the Portsmouth game tomorrow.

As a midfielder, Michel will increase competition for places and for someone like Fahey, who has not started a league game for City since the 2-1 defeat to Burnley in October, that could be bad news, but Fahey, who has been offered an extended contract by McLeish, welcomes the challenge.

"Michel is a top-quality player by all accounts, so it's great for the club to have him on board and I certainly won't be worrying about us signing a new midfielder," Fahey told the Herald.

"I think there will be players leaving this month before the transfer window closes, we may sign one or two more as well, so the competition was going to be tough anyway. If we're going to progress as a club and as a team we need a top squad and someone like Michel will only make us stronger.

"I don't know too much about him, we all met him at the Cup game on Tuesday and he trained with us for the first time yesterday, so we're still getting to know him, but he has a very good reputation."



CAMEO

Fahey is in a strange position with Birmingham now: a key member of the squad who plays more often than not (he's failed to play in just six of their 25 games this season), but who for the moment has to make do with a cameo role as super sub: he's come on as sub in 10 of the last 11 games for City, while he played from the start in the other game in that run, an FA Cup draw with Nottingham Forest.

His team-mate Lee Carsley (who was yesterday ruled out for six weeks due to injury) said on these pages before Christmas that while he was frustrated with the lack of first team action, he could not complain about his exclusion as the team McLeish was picking, now unbeaten since mid- October, was doing so well without him, and Fahey shares that view.

"Carso said he couldn't go knocking on the manager's door demanding to be in the team as it was a winning team, and it's the same with me, I can't have too many complaints," says Fahey, who has now made 39 appearances for Birmingham since his move from St Patrick's Athletic.

"I just have to sit tight and be ready to take my chance in the starting eleven if and when it comes around again.

"The good thing from my point of view is that I am still involved every week, I have played in nearly every game over the last two months or so. It's not ideal coming off the bench but it's better than nothing," Fahey added.

"It's not easy when you come on for the last 15 minutes, at that stage of the game we might be ahead in the game and the manager has brought someone like me on to protect the lead, you can't really shine in a situation like that as it's all about hard work. But the team is the main thing, look at our unbeaten record and our position in the league and it's worthwhile.

"Of course I would like to start every week, play in every minute of every game -- that's what every player wants. Right now the manager has a settled team, we have more or less the same eleven every week and it's working for the manager, so I will be happy with what I have, even if it means only getting 10 minutes here and there, but I know that it's up to me to be fit and ready and in form when the chance comes again to start."

Staying fit has been a problem for every player at the club in recent weeks due to the inclement weather. "We're all going a bit mad as we haven't been able to train due to the snow and the ice," says Fahey.

"We trained yesterday for the Portsmouth game and I think that was our first proper training session in a month, the weather and the pitches have been so bad we can't get out on the grass and do the real work. We have been working away in the gym and doing what we can but nothing can compare to proper training, out in the fresh air and on a proper pitch.

"At least the lads who are playing now get matches to keep them ticking over, but the players who have been out of the side or are injured have just been working on the treadmill and things like that, and it's impossible to keep match sharpness when it's like that."

McLeish hopes that some warmer weather will help. "We're in Portsmouth tomorrow, back to Birmingham after that, on Monday we're off to Malta for four days of training - hopefully with a bit of sun - and then back to business," he says.



CHALLENGE

"We have a busy time ahead, we have Everton away in the Cup tomorrow week, then Chelsea away in midweek, that's three away games in a row, nice and handy, then it's Spurs and Wolves at home.

"It's all about staying level-headed, that's why no one is even mentioning Europe right now. We'll sit back and enjoy it, try to get another win against Portsmouth tomorrow, try and get past Everton in the Cup next week, and then it's Chelsea away."

Another challenge there. No sweat for the man they call Fatts.


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