Damien Johnson believes that his Birmingham City team-mate, Maik Taylor, has earned the right to be classified as Northern Ireland's undisputed No 1 goalkeeper.

Taylor has been facing strong competition from Roy Carroll, of Manchester United, for the coveted jersey.

But Johnson, who also plays for Northern Ireland, reckons that Taylor has the edge and that he has been back to his best for club and country in recent weeks.

He followed his excellent displays against England and Poland with two superb saves to deny Mido and Fr>d>ric Kanout> a late winner for Tottenham Hotspur in the 1-1 draw at St Andrew's last Satuday.

The former Fulham player will have to maintain that form when Steve Bruce's side visit Premiership championselect Chelsea tomorrow.

Johnson said: "People back home are trying to make a deal out of the goalkeeping situation and saying you could toss a coin to decide whether to play Roy or Maik.

"I know both are top-class 'keepers but for me I think Maik has just got the edge. He is so consistent in terms of everything - shot-stopping, dealing with crosses, etcetera.

"I said beforehand that I thought he would be picked against England and he justified that decision and also did well in Poland.

"Then for Birmingham in the last two games he has made great saves against Villa and Tottenham and has kept us in numerous games since he came here.

"The two saves against Spurs got us a point and over the last few games he has shown what a top-class 'keeper he is. He was like that all of last season. Everyone at the club knows how good a 'keeper he is."

Johnson revealed the determination in the Blues squad not to allow a season of inconsistency to fizzle out now that they are virtually safe from relegation.

He said: "We are disappointed about how we have performed on a lot of occasions this season. We feel we have a squad to do well and at times we have set our standard and the next week we haven't reached it.

"It has been very inconsistent and very frustrating for us. We want to maintain the high standards we are capable of because we just don't want the season to fizzle out.

"This season has been up and down. It is something we are desperate to address. We don't want to be up and down to the end of the season."

Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, believes that David Dunn can force his way into England's squad for the 2006 World Cup if he can put his injury problems behind him.

Dunn is recuperating after undergoing surgery to cure the long-term back problem that also affects his hamstrings. In his absence, Birmingham have performed erratically.

But Bruce is confident Dunn will be fit for the new season and can have the same impact for Sven-Goran Eriksson on the left flank as the revitalised Joe Cole has demonstrated. Bruce said: " Everyone knows what a difference Dunny has made to Birmingham when he has been in the team. We played our best football in the Premiership up until Christmas of last season after he came to us from Blackburn.

"I think that David had been looking to make a claim for last summer's European Championships in Portugal but then had an horrific run with this back problem. The

good news is that the surgeons think the operation went well and it will be like having a new £5 million player for next season when hopefully David's problems are finally behind him."

Bruce added: "If he stays fit and plays like he can do then people will be talking about him for the World Cup.

"I believe that he could do for England what Joe Cole has shown us he can do in that left-sided role over the past couple of games.

"That will be a benefit to everyone, to Dunny, to England - and to Birmingham because it means he will be playing well for us if he is called up."

Former England Under-21 captain Dunn's only senior cap for his country was in the friendly international with Portugal at Villa Park two and a half years ago.