Preview: Birmingham City v Manchester City

Mark Hughes’ team head to the midlands buoyed by the five goals against Scunthorpe and desperate to get back to winning ways after three consecutive Premier League draws. The excellent performances of returning players on Wednesday have left the manager with options aplenty.

Of the players with knocks from last weekend, Martin Petrov appears to be the least likely to make it. In this case Hughes is likely to turn to Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips to provide the width. Pablo Zabaleta is likely to return after suspension, but Hughes is otherwise likely to revert to last Sunday’s line-up.

This may be particulary hard on Kompany, Santa Cruz and Ireland, but making tough selection decisions is going to be a big part of Hughes’ job from now on. Kompany looked excellent at centre-half on Wednesday, but it’s difficult to see Hughes dropping captain Toure, particularly against the pace of Benitiz.

Ireland couldn’t dislodge the central midfield pairing of Barry and de Jong in midweek, and it’s unlikely he will do so this weekend. One thing’s clear after Wednesday night: the players who did so well are all ready to step into the team if any of the current starters aren’t holding their own, and Hughes knows this.

If, for example, Adebayor is having one of his quieter games, then Hughes will have no qualms about bringing on Santa Cruz. Vladimir Weiss also showed the ability to raise the temperature of a game on Wednesday, and it will be exciting to see him get more opportunities.

The quest for our first clean sheet since August could be helped by Brum’s limp attack. Only Portsmouth have scored less goals in the Premier League this season. Birmingham finally managed to score more than once in a game last weekend, but this can be put down to excitement at the first home game since the takeover by Carson Yeung. Manager Alex McLeish is more renowned for a safety first approach that hasn’t always endeared him to the locals.

One person we won’t be seeing is Joe Hart, who is ineligible under the terms of his loan agreement. Maik Taylor is talking about the game as a chance to stake a claim for a regular first team spot – let’s hope he doesn’t play a proverbial blinder.

On our last trip to St Andrews, Stuart Pearce’s side managed to lose 3-1 despite playing against 10 men for much of the match. Surely we’re going to do better than that, but as with the games against Fulham and Wigan, a draw wouldn’t feel like a sufficient improvement. A victory is what’s required, and hopefully the confidence brought about by Wednesday’s goal-fest will help see the side through.

Mark Hughes:

“It’s always difficult going to St Andrews but the way we are playing, we fancy ourselves against anybody. At home you expect Birmingham to be a big test but we go into games expecting to win, we don’t just hope.”

Possible line-up: Given, Zabaleta, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong, Barry, Bellamy, Wright-Phillips, Tevez, Adebayor.

Prediction: 0-3 to Manchester City.

Player ratings: Manchester City v Scunthorpe United
Carling Cup: Arsenal and the rest of the draw considered

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