Birmingham City hat-trick hero Gary McSheffrey has spelt out the determination within the St Andrew's dressing room not to be knocked off the top of the Coca-Cola Championship table again this season.

Blues have twice led the league this season only to be toppled immediately, before going to the head of affairs again for the third time following their 3-0 win over Plymouth Argyle nine days ago.

But Saturday's 3-1 defeat of second-placed Preston North End not only kept them there, it helped stretch their advantage to three points. And, although Blues now have two away games coming up, at Sheffield Wednesday next Saturday followed by the Friday night pre-Christmas trip to Southend, McSheffrey insists that this time Blues may have risen to the top at just the right moment.

"We went top earlier this season but we got sloppy," he said. "Now we don't intend to let that happen again.

"The main thing is we're still top, we've won without playing well and we've put a bit of gap between ourselves and Preston. And we're in that position where we, the city and fans want to be. Derby are still right down our necks but we don't intend to give it up easily."

McSheffrey still acknowledges the need for caution, given the ferocity and tightness of the battle in the chasing pack behind them.

"I don't think we can run away with it," he said. "There are a lot of teams in the mix.

"Preston are probably the strongest team we've faced snd there is so much quality in in this division that it is hard to pick the top six, never mind the top two."

After seeing his side's eighth win in their last ten games, manager Steve Bruce was keen to give the credit where it's due — to his front men, chiefly McSheffrey.

"This division for me is about who makes the fewest mistakes," said Bruce. "We got away with it against Preston but we've got McSheffrey, Nicklas Bendtner and Cameron Jerome up the other end.

"McSheffrey has been a fantastic acquisition for us. He was the No 1 target this summer and there are times when I didn't think we'd get him.

"But I never gave up as he is everything I admire in a player. He is full of life and guts and determination and is a very good finisher. Without question, he could do it in the Premier League."

Bruce even overlooked the embarrassing spectacle of McSheffrey almost coming to blows with Bendtner as the pair argued over who would take Blues' penalty for their third goal.

"We never get a penalty," he said. "That's why Bendtner and McSheffrey were fighting over it.

"But the good thing is I've got two of them chomping at the bit to take it. That's nice to have. They're both as confident as hell but with McSheffrey having the chance to get his hat-trick from it, there was never any doubt he'd be the one to take it."

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