It’s taken Martin Taylor more than two years to become a loved member of the Birmingham City family but even now, with the captain’s armband on his sleeve and his most consistent run of form since arriving, the central defender is once more having to justify his selection in the team.
Of course the return to footballing consciousness of Matthew Upson will do nothing to help Taylor’s security of tenure. The fact he has been the keystone of a back four that has not conceded a goal in the last five Championship matches might, however.
With two places at the heart of Steve Bruce’s watertight defence up for grabs and Taylor and the immense Radhi Jaidi in situ, Upson is playing challenger to the incumbents’ champion.
But the former Arsenal man has a compelling case. He is the winner of seven England caps, he is possibly Bruce’s most shrewd signing and he is also a man playing to convince a Premiership side that he belongs with them.
But he has not kicked a ball in anger since February. Taken off with two minutes to go in the match against Arsenal, Upson developed a pelvic problem. It took him two months to recover fitness and he returned just in time to play a key part in the fight against relegation. Or so he thought.
Upson ruptured his Achilles tendon in the warm-up before the Aston Villa match in early April. Birmingham lost 3-1, were relegated and, until they exercised a two-year option in his contract, Upson’s future was uncertain.
He is stepping up his bid to return in tomorrow night’s reserve team match at Leeds United and Bruce has already said that should Upson come through that match: "He won’t be far away."
That will give the Birmingham manager one of his most difficult decisions for several weeks. Does he break up his rock solid unit of Taylor, Jaidi, Mat Sadler and Stephen Kelly, or does he tell his blue chip player — who has only 20 months left on his contract and has already refused to sign another — that he’s got to wait his turn?
Taylor knows which option he’d choose: "The back four — five including Maik [Taylor] — have done quite well keeping clean sheets and keeping it tight," the captain says.
"Steve has said that he wants a settled back four. The most important part of the team is the back four — if that’s a settled unit the rest slot in from there and can be changed around.
"We are a settled group. A bit of continuity is important, even in the League Cup games where he’s changed around a bit he’s kept the same back four because you need that.
"We are starting to read each others’ games which is vital in the Championship because there is a lot of pressure on the back four to do their defensive jobs."
All of which have been done to perfection though the kick and rush tactics prevalent in the second tier favour big, solid defenders. A man of Upson’s quality would be a pearl before footballing swine.
Even Taylor recognises that there are few defenders of Upson’s quality in the division: "It’s great that he’s back again," the 27-year-old said. "He’s had a bad time with injuries but he’s still a top quality player so it’s great to have him back in the squad. He is an international player — he’s going to improve any side."
Meanwhile, five Birmingham players are in line for midweek international matches. Striker Nicklas Bendtner is with Denmark for their friendly against the Czech Republic in Prague tomorrow when Stephen Kelly hopes to keep his place in the Republic of Ireland team to face San Marino in a Euro 2008 qualifier.
Two Blues youngsters will be representing England at youth level tonight. Cameron Jerome is in the under-21 squad in Holland for a friendly in Alkmaar while Fabrice Muamba lines up for the under-19s against Switzerland at Crewe. Nick Wright has returned from a loan spell at Bristol City after making five appearances.