After picking up one point in their last three games, Maik Taylor admits Birmingham City will not be able to be so generous in their next three.

Birmingham's first three league matches of 2008 have seen them take only a single point from title challengers Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, though most neutrals would admit they deserved something more than a 1-0 defeat from last Saturday's efforts.

They pushed Avram Grant's side to the limit and had Cameron Jerome found the back of Petr Cech's net instead of his post or Brazilian defender Alex, his team would have taken the lead and in all likelihood extracted something more tangible than plaudits from their afternoon's endeavour.

Nevertheless there was a feeling of a job reasonably well done. Privately Birmingham will have budgeted to take very little from their series against the division's leading lights. That luxury will not be open to them next Tuesday when they travel to the Stadium of Light.

That appointment with Sunderland marks the start of a three-game sequence, which also includes a visit from Derby County and a trip to West Ham, that will play a pivotal role in their season.

Taylor knows the standards must remain the same but the result must change: "It's important we apply ourselves not only against the top three teams but that we play with the same commitment against the other teams," he said.

"We have a run of three games which are huge, huge matches. We need to apply ourselves as though we were facing a Man United, Arsenal or Chelsea and we won't be far away.

"We have done well in the three games and got only one point to show for it which is disappointing. Certainly I don't think anyone would have begrudged us a point against Chelsea and, had we got the first goal, we might even have gone on and won it. We created a lot of chances and they scored from a set piece."

Taylor's belief is underpinned by the fact that victories in each of those games would put Birmingham on 29 points and within sight of potential safety, notwithstanding the early-season predictions that a low total may be enough have begun to look a little premature.

Their problem will be compounded by Sunderland's desperation - they too are on 20 points - and Derby's unpredictability.

"If we could win those three games it would be a massive stride towards safety but we are under no illusions they will be extremely difficult," Taylor said. "Derby at home is a must-win and we cannot afford to be beaten in any of the other games."

Whether their cause is aided by the arrival of Gary Cahill is not clear. Manager Alex McLeish has been given permission to talk to the Aston Villa defender but his board have been unable to agree a fee with their near-neighbours.

Georgios Samaras definitely won't be moving to St Andrew's after McLeish dropped his interest and Crystal Palace have signed Neil Danns for an initial fee of £600,000.

The midfielder has agreed a three-and-a-half-year contract and the eventual fee for the 25-year-old could rise to £850,000 if certain clauses are met.

Another midfielder, David Howland, has been called up to the Northern Ireland Under 21 squad to face Israel in an Under 21 European qualifying match on February 6. He has also gone out on loan to Port Vale for the rest of the season.