Mick McCarthy is relishing tonight’s Coca-Cola Championship showdown between his league-leading Wolverhampton Wanderers and second-placed Birmingham City insisting: “It doesn’t get much bigger than this!”
With six points potentially at stake with Wolves able to dent Birmingham’s own promotion ambitions just as emphatically as enhancing their own, the Wolves’ manager knows these are the games managers and players live to be a part of.
“These are the games that everyone wants to be involved in,” he said “This is what it is all about and they don’t come much bigger than this.”
McCarthy’s young Wolves will be pitting their wits against Alex McLeish’s experienced side which boasts a defensive back-four made up of players all aged 30 and above.
But McCarthy insists what his players lack in years is more than made up for with experience.
The average age of his side may be just 22 but he says his side have an experience which belies their years.
He said: “We have invested in youth while Birmingham have players with age and experience but I guess the fact we are both being successful at the moment suggests there is more than one way to skin a cat!
“I suppose that was my decision when I came in invest in youth in the team and, while we have a young side, these players have quite a number of games under their belts and have got experience.”
History shows that the teams who are relegated one year tend to be the ones fighting to go back up the following season and McCarthy admits his side are not in that category.
“Birmingham are second and Reading third so that is normally the case,” he said. “But we have bucked the trend a little bit.
“This is our third season with the players I brought in and it has been a gradual process since 2006. We finished fifth, then the following season, seventh and it has been a nice, steady progression.
“If you are a team who has come down it is almost insisted upon that you have an immediate impact. Last year it didn’t work that way because Watford are struggling but two of the teams that came down last year – Birmingham and Reading are second and third.
“But to be honest I am more worried about trying to get up there than thinking about staying there at the moment!”
While McCarthy’s Wolves have youth on their side, evergreen Kevin Phillips is the man they most have to fear.
The former Villa and West Bromwich Albion marksman has scored 13 goals this season despite seeing his appearances limited through injury and McCarthy has long been an admirer.
McCarthy said: “Kevin Phillips has been Blues’ talisman when he has been fit and he scored all the goals for West Brom last year when they got promoted so we know what he can do.”
Phillips came on in last meeting between the two sides back in January in the FA Cup third-round clash which Wolves won 2-0.
The Wolves boss said: “He only came on in the last game between us with a couple of minutes to go and hit the crossbar!
“He has to be the number one dangerman. He is a natural goalscorer, the European Golden Boot winner and he just has the know-how and the knowledge to score goals.
“He is a good player but then they have good players. Cameron Jerome I think is a real handful and Seb Larsson too. They are a good side which is why they are second in the league.
“They might be a bit stronger than they were in the FA Cup but I think we might be a bit stronger too!”
McCarthy underlined his respect for his opponent in the opposite dug-out, adding: “Alex has got a good squad of players and has just taken Stephen Carr too. and the fact they are second underlines how good the players are that he has got.”