Birmingham City: Carling Cup final places up for grabs - McLeish

Birmingham City players celebrate their Carling Cup semi final victory over West Ham United. PIC: PA

Birmingham City players celebrate their Carling Cup semi final victory over West Ham United. PIC: PA

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Alex McLeish will show no sentiment in picking his Birmingham side for the Carling Cup final and insists places are still up for grabs to face Arsenal on February 27.

The City manager will make several changes for tomorrow’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

It is a last chance for some of his fringe players to stake a claim to play at Wembley but McLeish will be ruthless in deciding who will face the Gunners.

The former Rangers boss said: “I’m not going to the cup final to be sympathetic to people.

“I’m not going to be thinking ‘I need to play him because he did well in that round’.

“I’ve got to pick a team I think will win the cup and it’s up for grabs, places are up for grabs.”

McLeish added: “Of course, tomorrow will provide an edge for players coming into the side.

“But there is great pride in this squad, regardless of the fact the Carling Cup final is being played next week.

“They have that pride that they want to win whichever game they participate in - and that includes ones in training.

“There hasn’t been a different approach from people because we are in a cup final.

“We demand an intensity in training, demand they train the way they play, and that’s still evident on the training field.”

McLeish made nine changes from his first choice line-up for the win over Coventry in the last round of the FA Cup and knows he has to rest several key players before the Carling Cup final.

He said: “Some of them the other night against Newcastle were sluggish and a bit flat.

“Mentally and physically we’ve been through a lot in the last month. We’ve had tough away games. But we still take the FA Cup very seriously. It is a home game. We are obliged to do it for our fans.

“They are paying good money to come to St. Andrew’s. You couldn’t ask for better, getting a home tie in the FA Cup, and we want to take advantage of that.

“It is against a huge club in Sheffield Wednesday, Gary Megson has taken over, and they will be looking for a scalp.

“It is what the romance of the FA Cup is all about but we don’t want to spoil the fact we’ve got home advantage. We want to go through and we will be putting out quality players.”

On loan Blues striker Obafemi Martins is expected to get a final chance to show he should start against the Gunners.

But McLeish knows his players have to provide better service for the former Newcastle player in terms of setting up chances.

He said: “Oba has still a sharpness about him but we’ve got to give better service to him as well.

“He is also a player who can engineer things for himself in the final third.

“We just need to get into better scoring situations and seeing him unleashing the power that he has with both feet and head. We’ve got to get the right kind of delivery into the box.”

McLeish is unlikely to risk defenders Martin Jiranek and Liam Ridgewell who suffered thigh and calf setbacks against the Magpies.

The likes of Kevin Phillips, Matt Derbyshire, Alexander Hleb, Lee Bowyer, Keith Fahey, Stuart Parnaby, David Murphy, Jordon Mutch and Colin Doyle are all in contention to face the Owls.

Potential Leeds United target, Norwich City midfielder Jonny Howson. PIC: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

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