New signing James McFadden is set to be unleashed this evening as Birmingham City face a pivotal clash in their fight against relegation at Sunderland.

Blues manager Alex McLeish is strongly considering giving the Scotland striker his first start since he signed for £5 million two weeks ago and said he was hoping the 24-year-old would provide the spark that will ignite Blues' battle for survival in the Barclays Premier League.

"I would like to get him in the team for his full debut but I will make that decision before the game," said McLeish, who has a fully-fit squad to choose from.

"It is a case of who do I leave out right now. I have a lot of forwards to choose from. It is a challenge for all these guys to prove that they are the men for the job.

"We have a lot of strikers who are similar but we are looking for someone to give us that spark, to ignite the team and get the ball in the net. Right now the players in possession of the shirts have done very well but with McFadden coming in we may look to change it."

Fellow new signing, striker Mauro Zarate will also be included in the squad but is likely to start on the bench while fullback David Murphy will not be risked as he is still trying to regain his full fitness after an injury he suffered at Hibernian before his £1.5 million move south.

The new arrivals have added some valuable competition for starting places and McLeish has challenged the squad to prove they are worthy of inclusion by maintaining the high standards they have set in the previous three fixtures against Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

Defeat at Sunderland tonight could see Blues slip into the relegation places. The hosts have an excellent home record with all five of their Premier League victories coming at the Stadium of Light.

"The gauntlet has been thrown down to the players to show they have the level of consistency required," McLeish said.

"They performed against Chelsea and they now have to take that form into this game and show me they should be in the team every week, or make it very hard for me to replace them.

"We have just played the three top teams in the country and our levels of concentration, workrate and overall performance were great. We have to take that into the Sunderland game.

"There are still a few games to go but every one has a stamp of importance on it. We are rivals with the likes of Sunderland and the other sides around us, and it would be a great bonus for us to beat these teams.

"We haven't discussed the possibility of being in the bottom three after tonight's game.

"I know some managers do put it in their team talks to generate the fear factor, and it can work. Long-term we will stick to looking at the positives.

"Players need to be told when they are not doing well but the proof of the pudding is when they are left out.

"We have always said players get themselves in the team and they get themselves out of the team. We have had a good response from the players since we came into the club."

McLeish said he was still trying to bolster the squad before the transfer window closes on Thursday night but he dismissed speculation that Blues were interested in former Rangers winger Peter Lovenkrands.

He did confirm an interest in Lorient defender Michael Ciani and AIK Solna's Liberian midfielder Dulee Johnson. However, both are unlikely to sign before Thursday.