Radhi Jaidi bade Birmingham City's league campaign au revoir last night with a solid performance at the heart of their defence and words of encouragement for his teammates following their 1-0 defeat at Manchester United.
The Tunisian centre-half will feature in this weekend's FA Cup third-round match with Huddersfield Town but will then be absent for nearly six weeks when he joins up with his compatriots for the African Cup of Nations.
His departure could not come at a worse time for manager Alex McLeish, following the end of Johan Djourou's loan and the likely transfer of Martin Taylor. With Jaidi playing in Ghana, McLeish will have just Liam Ridgewell and Rafael Schmitz on whom to call as he prepares his team for games against Arsenal and Chelsea and a vital showdown at the Stadium of Light with Sunderland.
The Scot will be desperate to bring somebody in by then but Jaidi's display yesterday and his emergence from a couple of months of isolation under Steve Bruce mean his presence will be sorely missed. Yet after a resolute display in their first match of 2008, Jaidi is confident Blues can survive without him.
"Maybe Birmingham City need me more than my national team, but it is still my country," he admitted. "I will go but I will still think about Birmingham. We play four games in the next month and I hope we get more points than games we play to separate ourselves from the bottom teams.
"We are disappointed to lose against Manchester United because we played well but it gives us confidence for our next games. In the last 30 minutes, I thought we had more than one chance, but we didn't believe we could score.
"We have some young players who lack experience who need games like this. We had them worried at the end. If we convert the opportunities we create, we can do whatever we want."
Jaidi bases his optimism on the fact that Blues were not just able to limit the Premier League champions to a single goal, but that they also threatened to score themselves.
Gary McSheffrey was played into a couple of good positions in the first period but wasted them and Mikael Forssell had two shooting opportunities near the end but was unable to test former West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
"They will be a little bit humiliated because we created chances. They started to hesitate and that is what we wanted," Jaidi said. "It was nice that we rebounded in the second half. If we concentrate at free-kicks, we could score. They were lucky and we were unlucky in that."
Jaidi hopes his luck will hold, too. McLeish is almost certain to recruit another central defender during the transfer window and, having got himself back into the team, the 32-year-old could return to find the vacancy he created filled by a new arrival.
"Maybe things will have changed when I get back but I will fight to get back into the team," he said. "After three games I feel confident and my head is up because I didn't play for at least six months."
Despite a very good display, Jaidi and his colleagues were not immune to criticism from McLeish, who blamed poor defending for Tevez's goal. While some Blues players felt the ball should have been kicked out of play because Cameron Jerome was injured in the build-up, United played on as Cristiano Ronaldo released the Argentine with a sumptuous back-heel.
McLeish did not enjoy the Portuguese's skill: "We should not have been cut open so easily. It was a five-a-side goal," the manager said.