Maik Taylor has hailed Birmingham City’s strength in depth as a major factor in bringing the club to the brink of a return to the Premier League.
A series of suspensions and injuries have threatened Birmingham’s claims for an automatic promotion spot in recent months.
Having come through a spell of injuries that halved the club’s stock of strikers for a large chunk of the campaign relatively unscathed, a recent spate of absences could have easily had a much more damaging effect on Birmingham’s aspirations.
While those around them have chopped and changed throughout this Championship campaign, goalkeeper Taylor, centre-half Liam Ridgewell and midfielder Lee Carsley have been a consistent force.
This represents the spine of the Birmingham side that, combined, has made 126 appearances in a Blues shirt this season.
Carsley’s red-card for a dangerous tackle on Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Chris Iwelumo attracted a three-match suspension.
Then here was a double blow for Birmingham on Easter Monday, Taylor was handed a one-game ban having been harshly sent off against Plymouth Argyle while Ridgewell’s season, and pre-season, was ended by a broken leg sustained in the same fixture.
Fortunately for McLeish the reliable trio’s deputies haven’t let their team-mates down.
Quite the opposite in some cases; Taylor’s place is safe but with Carsley available to face Preston North End on Saturday, Damien Johnson has done nothing that warrants him being dropped from the starting line-up this weekend.
Even in place of Ridgewell, and now broken kneecap victim David Murphy, Djimi Traore, a player who appeared destined to never make a first-team appearance in a Birmingham shirt, looks set to play a part in the club’s most-important 90 minutes of the season alongside renaissance man Franck Queudrue.
McLeish’s ‘36-man squad’ may have previously been ridiculed by managing director Karren Brady in her controversial national newspaper column but that depth is exactly what has maintained Birmingham’s unbeaten finish to the season, a record that currently stands at nine matches.
“We have got an extremely strong squad, there’s lots of competition in all of the positions,” explained Taylor.
“Even Djimi making his debut at Watford, I thought the lads have been tremendous when they’ve come on.
“It just shows that we’ve got strength in depth, there’s been lots of the season where we’ve all been without key players but the players who have come in have done exceptionally well.
“Now with two games to go it’s in our hands.”
Baring a late injury, Taylor should resume his place between the posts for the visit of Preston this Saturday despite Colin Doyle’s faultless display at Watford last weekend.
It’s been a long, gruelling season that Taylor has played the most part of, 44 games in total, however the Northern Ireland international insists that with the light at the end of the tunnel in view, Birmingham have renewed energy to get the job done.
“When you look back it seems like it has been a long hard season but now with all left to play for the lads are training well, it’s like it’s a month into the season.
“There’s certainly no one who is going to slack off now, we’re giving it everything for these vital last two games.”