Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish has revealed he feared defender Radhi Jaidi may have been past his best during pre-season but has been delighted with the recent form of the big Tunisian defender.
The 33-year-old struggled with injury during pre-season training and fell behind Martin Taylor in the pecking order. But after the 1-0 home defeat to Blackpool, Birmingham’s only league reverse of the season so far, McLeish dropped Taylor and brought back Jaidi.
The towering defender has been in commanding form in the last three games and was once again impressive during the 1-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, which sent Blues to the top of the Coca-Cola Championship.
It hasn’t just been Jaidi who has impressed McLeish. The Blues boss has been pleased with how the entire back four and goalkeeper Maik Taylor, have performed over the last month.
“I have been really amazed at the progress they have made over the last three games, especially since Jaidi has come in,” he said.
“Jaidi looked as though he could be struggling with his back at the beginning of the season and maybe they get to that age when you wonder if a player’s legs can still hold up, but Jaidi has become even better with each of these last three games.
“I had a good feeling about the Rangers’ game. I really felt the defence was on top of their game and big Maik has been brilliant, going back to the end of last season as well. I had a good feeling it would come good.
“Early on, we were a bit frustrated because we didn’t get a grip of the ball and retain possession as well as we would have liked and surrendered it a wee bit too easily at times. Once we changed things, moved Quincy to the right wing and got into the groove, we definitely found our feet.”
While the Blues defence has certainly got into its stride, McLeish’s star-studded strikers have yet to produce the goal return that may have been expected.
The Blues boss has operated a rotation system to keep his strikers fresh and gave starts to Kevin Phillips and Garry O’Connor against the Londoners in place of James McFadden and Cameron Jerome. McLeish admitted his decision was a gamble but it was one that paid off as O’Connor set up Phillips for the winner on the stroke of half time.
McLeish pledged to continue to mix and match his strikers and believes a goal glut could be on the way. “I have told the players that the competition will be intense,” he said. “Garry and Kevin didn’t do their chances any harm at all. I will continue, as I see fit, to make changes with a view of keeping them all with an edge.
“You take a chance when you leave someone like McFadden out and Cameron has been in good form. We took a little gamble but we looked for freshness and I don’t want to flog McFadden and Jerome, or any of our strikers, to death. I felt O’Connor and Phillips did well, and they combined excellently.
“We are still lacking that killer edge in attack but I think with each game that passes, people like Kemy Agustien will grow in confidence. We didn’t get as much out of Quincy as we would have liked but he cut inside and made a killer pass, things we have been working on in training. He is definitely the cause of problems for the opposition with his very presence.”
Meanwhile, McLeish confirmed that captain Lee Carsley will be fit for the trip to Burnley in two weeks’ time. Carsley limped out of Saturday’s game with a dead leg.