Alex McLeish has revealed that Birmingham City simply weren’t ready to play with two up front this season.

In Blues' opening matches, he went with Cameron Jerome-Garry O’Connor and then Cameron Jerome-Nikola Zigic combinations.

But thereafter it was either a 4-4-1-1 or 4-5-1.

For the Blackpool match, McLeish went back to two up top and, in an inspired move, had Aleksandr Hleb playing just behind O’Connor and Zigic at the top of a diamond midfield.

At Villa, it was 4-4-1-1 again with Hleb just off Zigic, after a swift adjustment from an initial 4-5-1.

“People have been screaming for 4-4-2 and there’s 15, 16 other teams in the Premier League not playing with a two, but everybody wants me to play with a two in the Birmingham colours," he said.

“We weren’t ready for it. I see these players every day in training. I see them in practice matches – I didn’t see a partnership that would cause problems.

“We went with it against Blackpool because Zigic has more sharpness, O’Connor too, and we found a way of getting Hleb into the side.”

McLeish also felt that Matt Derbyshire had not pulled up too many trees either and was another striving for full sharpness.

“Zigic played in the World Cup and you heard William Gallas saying he’s not fit," admitted McLeish. "People thought there was burn out there, because he had a difficult time of it with the French and then was behind in his pre-season at Spurs.

“Zigic had that as well. He didn’t have much of a break, then he went on a tour of China which is quite a tiring tour, especially for a guy who has just come off the World Cup. He took time to get sharpness.

“O’Connor wasn’t ready a few weeks ago either, but he’s getting there and Derbyshire’s up to a state of fitness.

“The problem was getting two up front who would click and not be detrimental to the team when we didn’t have the ball.”

McLeish has always been tactically flexible and said he would have a long, hard think about how to set up in future games.

“We want to keep momentum going. It’s horses for courses in some games. Arsenal, Blackpool the tactics were different and the players took it on board.

“Preparation is always important in this Barclays Premier League.

“We’re now in amongst the pack, but there’s a long, long way to go.”

West Ham United and their former Blues owners David Sullivan and David Gold provide the St Andrew’s opposition on Saturday for McLeish’s men.