Saturday 16 December 2017

McLeish's joy as Birmingham continue rich vein of form

It was hard to know what had given Alex McLeish the greatest pleasure.

Progression to the fifth round of the FA Cup by beating Everton, last season's beaten finalists, was an obvious highlight, because Birmingham City's latest victory extended their unbeaten run to a 15th game. Then there were the two beautifully worked team goals.

But perhaps the Blues manager's biggest reason to be cheerful was provided by the travelling fans who chanted the same song over and over. "We are unbeatable, we are unbeatable," they sung.

"It was nice to hear that," McLeish said. "Belief has a powerful impact in a dressing room and these players should realise the power they've got now. Individually, you can have one or two mavericks in a team who can win you games, but they won't win you as many games as when you've got a dressing room as full of the power that I've got in mine.

"If we were sitting on 21 points now we'd probably be panicking and spending some big money. Now, I don't think I necessarily have to spend big money.

"Are we prepared to spend big money on an individual who was going to upset our wage structure? I don't think we need to do that. But I would pay big money for an individual who would come in under the wage structure or slightly above it."

On the evidence of Saturday, belief is coursing through the veins of every one of his players. None more so than Barry Ferguson, who produced a performance of poise and quality. That the 30-year-old provided what turned out to be the decisive goal was fitting.

Keith Fahey and Sebastian Larsson had done the donkey work by the time Ferguson got involved in what McLeish described as a contender for goal of the season. A swivel of his hips dummied the Everton defence, allowing James McFadden the time and space to complete the creative stages of the move and Ferguson did the rest, curling the ball past Tim Howard.

If Christian Benitez's opening goal was the catalyst for Birmingham's confidence to come to the fore, it was also evidence of Everton's sluggish start to the game, an uncharacteristic fault David Moyes was at a loss to explain. It was not one he seemed ready to excuse, particularly after a goal from substitute Leon Osman sparked a second-half rally that underlined their earlier lethargy.

"We didn't start the game well and because of that we are out of the competition," Moyes said. "I wouldn't name individuals. I don't think anybody started properly."

Next up for Birmingham is Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, where they could make it 24 hours of playing time without defeat. (© The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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