x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Birmingham sides battle for one semi-final spot

The prospect of a place in the Carling Cup semi-finals gives tonight's the derby between Birmingham City and Aston Villa an extra twist.

Alexander Hleb, left, has struggled since his loan move from Barcelona in the summer.
Alexander Hleb, left, has struggled since his loan move from Barcelona in the summer.

The prospect of a place in the Carling Cup semi-finals gives tonight's Birmingham derby an extra twist. Premier League sides Birmingham City and Aston Villa meet in a quarter-final at St Andrews having already played out a 0-0 draw in the league earlier this season at Villa Park.

Villa reached the final of the tournament last season, losing 2-1 to Manchester United at Wembley, and that disappointment is acting as a driving force, according to Stephen Warnock.

"Getting to the final last year was a fantastic achievement but it was also one of the most disappointing days of the season," the left-back told the club's website.

"You have come away from it with nothing and nothing but heartbreak at the end of it.

"You can't turn round and say 'I played in a cup final', 'how did you get on?' 'Well, we got beaten'. The lads want to get back there and put it right. We want to enjoy that day and we want to win and we want to celebrate afterwards.

"But first things first, we need to get through this round."

Warnock, 28, made his debut in the league fixture at St Andrews last term after signing from Blackburn Rovers. Villa won that clash 1-0.

"There was myself, James Collins and Richard Dunne who made our debuts there and we got the right result that day," Warnock added. "Fingers crossed we can do the same again."

Meanwhile, Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager, has revealed that Alexander Hleb, the midfielder, was "embarrasssed" when left out of the starting line-up for the recent shock win over Chelsea two weeks ago.

Hleb, the former Arsenal man, has struggled for full fitness since arriving in late August on loan from Barcelona.

He was restored to the side for Saturday's 1-1 draw against Fulham and gave one of his better performances before suffering a hamstring injury.

McLeish said: "I've repeatedly told him [Hleb] that he is not fit enough to start games.

"He was disappointed not to start against Chelsea. He thought it was a slight and was a bit embarrassed by that. A top player thinks he can just walk into the team - but it doesn't work like that."

McLeish is also demanding more aggression from £6 million (Dh34.8m) summer signing, striker Nikola Zigic, the Serbian international.

"For such a big guy, the aggression is not in his game," McLeish said. "He is a passionate guy but we've tried to put aggression in his game and he is getting better."

In tonight's other game, Ipswich Town, the only team from outside the top flight left in the competition, host West Bromwich Albion.

Birmingham v Villa, 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport + 3