Birmingham City received a quadruple boost on the injury front yesterday to edge them closer to full strength for next week’s Championship title showdown.
Talismanic forward James McFadden, striker Marcus Bent, right-back Stuart Parnaby and midfielder Kemy Agustien all returned to training at the club’s Wast Hills complex yesterday.
The foursome’s return follows the recent reappearance of striking duo Kevin Phillips and Garry O’Connor and left-back David Murphy in a Birmingham shirt.
Alex McLeish has now witnessed his squad transform from a threadbare collection of walking wounded to a powerful stock of potential Premier League stars in a matter of weeks.
The timing couldn’t have come at a better time for the Birmingham manager with arguably the club’s biggest game of the season on the horizon.
Table-topping Wolverhampton Wanderers are the visitors to St Andrew’s in five days’ time and victory would force the Blues back into the battle for Championship silverware.
Defeat, however, would most probably set up a straight head-to-head with third-placed Reading for automatic promotion, which could quite possibly be played out in dramatic fashion on the final day of the season at the Madejski Stadium.
McLeish will now face a headache, albeit a welcome one, from the selection dilemma that has been created by the emptying of the Birmingham treatment room.
The Scotsman has already spoken of his ‘catch 22 situation’.
“Sometimes it’s a double-edged sword,” he said.
“Whereas we have missed influential players, players who can make a difference, they have been out for such a long time, can they come right back into the pace of things?
“With the momentum of the other players, do you leave them out to bring others in, because you feel they have a better chance of scoring?”
There is no doubt that the return of Scotland international McFadden will hand McLeish the biggest boost of all heading into the home stretch.
Bent will just be another body to compete up front, Agustien is unlikely to trouble the current incumbents of Birmingham’s midfield, and Parnaby will find an in-form Stephen Carr in his way but McFadden is different.
While the former Everton man hasn’t yet produced the magic that is expected of him, he can still be a vital creative tool for a Birmingham side that have largely lacked artistry.
Out of all four returnees, 25-year-old McFadden is likely to be the only one who McLeish would create a hole in his team for.
The welcome return of McFadden has been backed up by the words of his Birmingham team-mate Franck Queudrue but the defender has also warned about expecting too much too soon.
“Faddy is back in training so it’s a great lift for everybody,” said Queudrue. “We know the quality players we have got and we’ve been missing them because we didn’t score many goals.”