So our quest for a fifth straight league victory, and a brief eight point gap between ourselves and United before they undoubtedly stuff Keegan’s Comedy Newcastle 97-0, takes us to the midlands for our second encounter with a struggling Birmingham side in six games. We need to win here to put some major pressure on United, the only chance of them maybe putting in an off performance, to somehow lead to them dropping more points against Newcastle. We shouldn’t really be thinking about that though, we’re five points clear, the league is in our hands, and we need to keep winning. Of the last thirty points available to us, we’ve gained twenty six. That’s good enough to win the league if we can keep this going. This really has been a truly exceptional season so far, beyond all expectation. We’ve won the most league games, lost the fewest and scored the highest number of goals. We really can’t ask for more, apart from maybe some silverware at the end of the season to finish it all off.
Our next four games are Birmingham away, Aston Villa at home, Wigan away and Middlesbrough at home. We need to win all of those, as United’s run is similarly straight forward (ish), and the next four after that are Chelsea, Bolton, Manchester United and Liverpool. The period where the league will probably be won or lost. Anyway, that’s looking too far ahead. We need to focus on Birmingham, a game we should win.
Birmingham’s last league victory came on boxing day. Since then, they’ve drawn four and lost three, as well as losing to Huddersfield in the FA Cup. Huddersfield beat them at home seven days before we failed to. They find themselves out of the relegation zone only by goal difference, and could be as low as nineteenth after this weekend if results really go against them.
Our last and only loss at this ground came in the last minute of the 2004/2005 season, with Emile Heskey grabbing a late winner. Other than that, we’ve beaten them six times and drawn with them twice in recent years, including a frustrating 1-1 draw at Ashburton Grove. Birmingham are the last side to have taken points off of us in the league. We’ve dropped points in only one of our last five visits to St Andrews spanning 22 years.
Toure obviously misses this game after his injury against Milan, although it is not as bad as first feared. It is expected he’ll be out for around two weeks, although with Senderos playing as well as he is, it’s not the biggest loss this team could have had. Diaby and Djourou are still short of fitness and won’t be involved, nor will Rosicky. With Eboue suspended, Walcott starts on the right, unless we go for 4-5-1 with Eduardo on the left. Almunia should return in goal. Van Persie is still a couple of weeks away. Hleb is a available despite previously being a slight doubt with a foot injury, and Adebayor has a stiff neck, possibly why he missed that header, but he’ll start.
Subs: Lehmann, Hoyte, Gilberto, Denilson, Bendtner.
They have no injuries of note.