Thursday 22 February 2018

McLeish hoping for big things from O'Connor

Nick Briggs

Birmingham boss Alex McLeish has stressed Garry O'Connor still faces a battle to get back into first-team contention despite seeing the striker grab a late winner in Birmingham's 3-2 win over a Hong Kong XI yesterday.

O'Connor was sidelined for the majority of last season following a double hip operation, but was nevertheless handed a new six-month deal with an option of a further six-month extension.

The 27-year-old Scot was introduced during the second half of the pre-season friendly -- Birmingham's first of their three-match Far East tour -- at Hong Kong Stadium and netted his side's third goal two minutes from the end when he sidefooted home Nikola Zigic's lay-off.

McLeish hopes that O'Connor can potentially have a big part to play this term, provided he can regain his former sharpness.

"Garry O'Connor has a little bit to go," McLeish said. "He's come back from career-threatening injuries, he's had two hip injuries, two operations at the same time, which is quite unheard of for footballers, so he has got a big battle ahead of him.

"We decided to be honourable and give Garry six months to prove that he is over the injuries and when you see the way he can finish then of course he can be an asset to us.

"But we need a lot of forwards in the Premier League because it is a position that people frequently can get injured in and we need to cover ourselves.

"He struggled to get into the game but that's his first game for a long, long time and to score the winning goal with a really nice finish will give him a lot of confidence."

Birmingham produced a disjointed display in the opening 45 minutes and went in at the break 2-1 down to the hosts before a raft of changes during the interval saw an improvement, as they eventually ran out narrow winners.

McLeish, though, was unconcerned with his side's display, admitting he expected them to struggle in the blazing Hong Kong heat.


"It's all about getting the players fit; we got a tougher game than perhaps we expected," he added. "At this stage of the season, performance is not the most important thing. There were some good things, some not so good, but we're happy to win.

"We're not fit enough yet. They were a little bit sharper in the first half but we're not nearly at a level of fitness, nowhere near it.

"This is not the most important time for us, I always like to be judged in May, at the end of the season.

"Pre-season games are rarely easy unless you handpick things and we weren't able to handpick them. We were given the games by people at our football club and we said we will face tough opposition and you have to be organised at least. I knew we wouldn't be sharp enough, we wouldn't quite have the legs yet."

Irish Independent

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