x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Alex McLeish fears burnout for Birmingham players

With his team mired in relegation trouble having slipped into the bottom three, a congested fixture list is finally catching up with some of his players.

Alex McLeish, the Birmingham City manager, admits concern over his players suffering burnout is one of his biggest fears in the battle to ensure Premier League survival.

Birmingham have slipped into the bottom three after a poor performance in Saturday's 3-1 home loss against fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion.

McLeish was deprived of several key players through injury, including the midfield duo of Barry Ferguson and Craig Gardner who will again be absent for tonight's meeting with Everton at Goodison Park.

The former Scotland manager is worried about the danger of players running out of steam given their pursuit of cup success on two fronts alongside the fight to retain top-flight status.

McLeish, whose side entertain Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, said: "You definitely worry about burnout because of the amount of games they've played.

"The concentration that was there for the Stoke game [a 1-0 league win] and the Arsenal game at Wembley in the Carling Cup [final which Birmingham won 2-1] was missing at the weekend. Whether that was tiredness or burnout, then that's the only excuse I would be prepared to make for them.

"There's not a lot you can do about it. I hear some managers saying that they never got anything out of certain players who had played in the World Cup until December time.

"We know that's the kind of things burnout can do to you. But we're not feeling sorry for ourselves. We've got to get on with it."

McLeish acknowledges that Birmingham face a difficult run which includes away games with Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

But he has seen his side rise to similar challenges. "There was a period earlier in the season when people looked at the fixtures and tipped us to get no points out of 12," he said.

"We ended up with six or seven points through beating Chelsea and drawing with Manchester City and Tottenham during that run. We know it's a hard run-in, but we're capable of taking points. If I can get all my players back from injury, we've got a good chance [of staying up]."

Martin Jiranek, the defender, is likely to return tonight after missing the West Brom encounter with a thigh injury. Ferguson (broken rib) and Gardner (calf) are still sidelined and McLeish will run a late fitness check over Nikola Zigic, the striker, who has a groin problem.

For the home side Phil Neville, the captain, is out with a hamstring injury he picked up against Newcastle United on Saturday.

Victor Anichebe is doubtful with a knock while Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini are also ruled out.

* Press Association

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