x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

McLeish left preparing leftovers for Bolton

Injury troubles and relegation worry Birmingham's leader

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Alex McLeish of Birmingham City looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Birmingham City and Aston Villa at St. Andrews Stadium on September 13, 2009 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Alex McLeish
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Alex McLeish of Birmingham City looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Birmingham City and Aston Villa at St. Andrews Stadium on September 13, 2009 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Alex McLeish

Alex McLeish, the Birmingham City manager, has pledged to play his strongest available team in today's FA Cup quarter-final against Bolton as he faces up to the biggest injury crisis of his tenure.

McLeish's Carling Cup winners, who stunned Arsenal two weeks ago, will book their second trip to Wembley if they overcome Owen Coyle's team at St Andrew's.

However, McLeish could be forced to select from a severely depleted squad.

The first-team regulars Barry Ferguson, Craig Gardner, Stephen Carr, Liam Ridgewell, Lee Bowyer, Keith Fahey, Nikola Zigic and David Bentley are doubtful; Scott Dann, James McFadden and Alex Hleb have been ruled out.

Despite his 17th-placed team being entrenched in a Premier League relegation fight, McLeish insisted he will resist the temptation to rest any of his stars for their battle to beat the drop.

"It is the worst injury situation in my time at the club," he said.

"It is something you can't control, injuries as a manager.

"In terms of suspensions, you can work on discipline, you can try to make sure you cut out too many yellow and red cards.

"But the injuries are things that are difficult to legislate for.

"The league is more important to us, there is no doubt about it. But I owe it to the Birmingham fans to play the strongest team available. It might not be strong enough to win. I could play my best team against Bolton, and we could still lose because they are a good side.

"We could lose but we don't plan to.

"We are going to try to win this game."

Bentley, on loan from Tottenham, is "touch and go" after limping off with a groin problem early in the 1-1 draw at Everton on Wednesday.

McLeish said he hoped Ferguson would be able to play after missing two games with a broken rib.

"Barry is good. He trained on Thursday and looked very mobile. He took the injection, so he has got a bit of the freeze in his side which is saving him from the pain," said McLeish, who added that a "last-minute" decision would be made on Ferguson's availability.

Coyle said Birmingham's Wembley triumph proves that the monopoly enjoyed by the top four can be halted.

The Bolton manager is motivated by the prospect of unfashionable clubs, such as his own, now standing a realistic chance of winning domestic championships.

"Everybody would have looked at that and felt good about it," he said of Birmingham's Carling Cup triumph. "There is always a tendency, [and] rightly so, that even when a club gets to a final, the perception is that the elite club will still win on the day.

"And it wasn't only that Birmingham won. It was the way they went about it. I think that is a great boost for anybody.

"It serves notice that it's not just the elite four or five clubs who can win the trophies, and that has to be the motivation for anybody."

It was McLeish who helped Coyle land his first job in English football, recommending to Burnley in 2007 that they take a chance on his fellow Scot.

Despite playing a key part in his development that eventually saw him move to Reebok Stadium, Coyle said his close friendship with McLeish will not be an issue in the game.

"I have such a high regard for him, but he knows for the duration of this match I'll be doing everything I can to progress to the semi-finals," he said. "We are one step away from Wembley and for the club it's an opportunity for a strong, positive finish to the season."