Birmingham City take on Luton Town at St Andrew's tonight comforted by the confirmation that they will have use of on-loan Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner for the remainder of the season.

Bendtner's fellow Arsenal team-mates Sebastian Lars-son and Fabrice Muamba had already signed season-long loan deals with Blues. But Bendtner was signed on at St Andrew's initially only until next month. Thierry Henry's injury, coupled with a pre-Christmas wobble for the Gunners stemming from lack of goals, had led to suggestions that the young Dane might be called back to north London.

But the highly-rated 18-year-old has agreed to extend his loan period until after Blues' last match of the season against main promotion rivals Preston North End on May 6.

That does not take in the Championship play-offs but, with Blues are stringing together results and forging an eight-point lead, it is starting to look like they should have no need of that this time.

Even allowing for Bendtner's contribution, especially during the early part of the season, the chief cause of Blues' rise to prominence over the past two months has been the form of Gary McSheffrey.

Prior to his rare blank in the 2-1 win over QPR on Boxing Day (Blues' fifth successive victory), McSheffrey had scored eight goals in as many games to reach a total of 14 for the season.

That is bettered by only two other players in the division, Rob Earnshaw and Gzregorz Rasiak (both of whom have bumped their respective totals up with penalties). But McSheffrey's tally is all the more impressive in that he is essentially down on the teamsheet as a midfielder, although one with a pretty-free roving commission. Such has been his contribution that he could end up costing Blues a lot more like the £4 million Coventry claim he cost, rather than the initial £2.3 million put out at St Andrew's.

It seems hard to take in that at this time only two seasons ago he was still establishing himself in the Coventry side, having returned to Highfield Road following the second of two loan spells with Luton. But his Blues team-mate Bendtner is only the latest young player to realise how influential a decent loan spell can prove. Before tonight's reunion with the Hatters, McSheffrey freely acknowledges the debt he owes to Luton manager Mike Newell and his No 2 Brian Stein.

Newell scored only once in 11 league games as a Blues striker in an unhappy season under Trevor Francis at St Andrew's a decade ago, during which time he was loaned out to West Ham United and Bradford City.

But his bequest in terms of the effect he had on McSheffrey has proved to be far more impressive.

"I owe a lot to Mike Newell and Brian Stein," McSheffrey said. "They took a chance on me when they took me on loan and it was definitely the turning point of my career.

"I was in the reserves at Coventry and surplus to requirements under Peter Reid.

"I went there and it put me back on the map and Mike Newell knows I will always owe him a debt for that.

"I am forever grateful for that, I went there and the rest is history. But that won't count for anything when they come here on Friday night.

"The cameras are here and, not only will we want to win, we want to show people we're a decent team.

"We're on top of our game, we feel we can beat anyone at home, it will be difficult for them and, hopefully, we can get another win.

"The lads are confident. And, personally, my spell of form is up there with the best of my career. Since I have been here I feel I've been playing quite well but it helps being in the same side as players like Nicklas Bendtner. He is unselfish and is great to play with. His vision is excellent, I can come in off the wing and we are just all happy for each other when we score."

With the obvious exception of a certain penalty against Preston earlier this month, that is! n The players will wear black armbands tonight as a mark of respect for former Blues favourite Johnny Vincent, who died during the festive period.

West Bromwich-born Vincent scored 44 goals in 194 appearances after joining Blues from school as an apprentice in 1962. After nine years at St Andrew's he moved to Middlesbrough in 1971 for a season for £40,000 before finishing his league career with three years at Cardiff City.

He then went into non-League football with Ather-stone United before going to the US to enjoy a brief renaissance with NASL outfit Connecticut Bicentennials.

But he returned to the Midlands to run several pubs and was a regular visitor to St Andrew's in his later years.