It would be easy for Birmingham City’s fans, players and staff alike to have the Champagne on ice and the party poppers at the ready.
However you won’t find Alex McLeish in celebratory mood just yet. According to the Birmingham manager there’s still a job to be done. A job that could, if completed, have, in McLeish’s own words, ‘life-changing’ consequences.
Birmingham are tantalisingly close to a return to Premier League; beat Preston North End on Saturday evening and they’re up. Three points, 90 minutes and a whole load of emotions separate Birmingham from the league that they were dumped out of almost 12 months ago.
The danger is that the Blues players could slip into party mode before that job is complete. Preston will be no pushovers, the Lancastarians still have a play-off dream to chase and they proved at Deepdale in December that they are capable of beating their opponents.
Which is why it’s up to McLeish to ensure that all promotion parties are cancelled until he says otherwise.
“We know that there is a marvellous opportunity there, it doesn’t take a rocket science to work out what happens if we win but we’re not being presumptuous at all,” said McLeish. “We’re keeping our feet on the ground and we know we have to earn the right. We just want the players to do themselves justice and everyone of them to play to their best level. If they do that then they will be tough to beat.
“Nothing is done, nothing has been achieved. The only thing is that we’ve put ourselves in our a position where there’s life-changing opportunities for people.”
McLeish has several selection dilemmas, or ‘happy problems’ as he puts it, ahead of the potential promotion-clincher.
David Murphy’s broken knee-cap on top of Liam Ridgewell’s broken leg means that there is an extra hole in defence to be filled and it appears that Djimi Traore has won the race to partner Franck Queudrue on the left side.
“Djimi Traore has been waiting patiently so I suppose the smart money will be on him to slot in because he is natural on that (left) side,” added McLeish. “I know we’ve got permutations but it is a bloke with enormous experience, Djimi won a Champions League medal not long ago in Istanbul so he’s got good pedigree and he’s ready.”
The Birmingham manager’s biggest selection headache will come in central midfield. His club captain Damien Johnson has performed tremendously in place of his suspended team captain Lee Carsley but who he gives the nod won’t become clear until 5.20pm on Saturday.
“I’ve not decided on that and the players (Carsley and Johnson) will be the first to know out of respect, that would only be fair,” said McLeish on his toughest conundrum.
“Johnson’s done well. To lose somebody like Lee Carsley with the season he has had was pretty worrying but we had somebody like Johnson stepping in who has been there before, who has done it all in the same kind of position as Lee and who was at a level of fitness where he was able to slot right in having played for his national team (Northern Ireland) in the previous weeks.
“The two of them are terrific and one of them will be disappointed but that is the difficult decisions you have to make in football management. When Jonty and Lee become coaches themselves then they will have to face it some day as well.”