Birmingham City, throughout an inconsistent third season in the Premiership, have proved that they are more than capable than living with the league's best - it's the rest that have caused them problems.

After watching his side scrap out a creditable 1-1 draw at champions-elect Chelsea last Saturday, first- team coach Eric Black yesterday bemoaned Blues' performances against the division's lesser lights and expressed his belief that results like the 2-0 capitulation at West Bromwich Albion and the defeat at Crystal Palace have robbed the club of a potential European spot.

Blues came within seven minutes of a memorable victory at Stamford Bridge and confirmed the progress of a season that has already seen them record a double over Liverpool and hold Manchester United at St Andrew's.

With European qualification likely to extend down as far as seventh in the points table, Black knows exactly what has 'killed' Blues' chances of challenging for a Uefa Cup place.

He said: "Certainly both the Crystal Palace games and the West Brom match away are the ones that have really killed us.

" Those six to nine points, which at the start of the season we would possibly think we'd have a chance of taking, would certainly have moved us up the league.

"The West Brom game was probably the lowest point of the season when we felt we'd let everybody down."

But Steve Bruce's No 2 has been impressed with the way the players have responded since the humiliating reverse at The Hawthorns five weeks ago.

He said: "The players reacted in a positive manner and they have shown what it does mean to them to play for Birmingham City. They have proved to the supporters that they want to take the club forward and the last three performances have been very positive and we now need to kick on again to try to finish the season on a high."

Their next match is at home to relegationthreatened Portsmouth on Saturday and Black is wary of the phenomenon known as the New Manager Syndrome.

The arrival of Alain Perrin has inspired the Fratton Park side, who went into last Saturday's game at home to Charlton with a sequence of only one win in 12 league matches and uncomfortably close to the Premiership drop zone. A 4-2 win at The Valley has eased their worries and has given Birmingham food for thought.

Black said: "They have the freshness of a new manager which always changes something and it tends to be positive but you expect that.

"They played very well against Charlton. They looked a real threat up front with a lot of pace which we are going to have to watch."