Often Partisan

Stoke Preview

It’s been a quiet week at St Andrews whilst some players have been on international duty, and hopefully the rest will have done the squad some good before tomorrow’s visit of Stoke City.

Having had a quick scan through the injury list, it would appear that barring long term absentees Scott Dann and James McFadden, Blues are relatively injury free and have some interesting selection choices to make ahead of the home match against the Potters. Despite pulling out of England duty in Denmark this week with a sore thumb, goalkeeper Ben Foster is most likely fit to play between the sticks; likewise Aliaksandr Hleb has recovered from a slight ankle knock to push for a place in midfield.

All this leaves Alex McLeish with a bit of a selection headache; does he go with the same team that beat the Hammers away in London last Sunday, or does he look to change it a bit to freshen the team against stronger opposition? Whatever he does, Alex really has to look to go for the win against Stoke; Blues haven’t won back to back games in the Premiership for nearly twelve months and doing so would propel us further up the table and away from trouble.

I think the biggest selection quandary McLeish has is up front. Whilst Cameron Jerome is a willing runner, who’s been playing on with what looks like a niggle, he is clearly bereft of form and confidence and hasn’t scored in eleven games. Blues now can call on Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins, and having had the whole week to train with the side surely McLeish can call on Martins to slot into the side up front and offer us a new attacking dimension. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jerome a lot but I do think he needs a little break to sort out any injury niggle he might have, and to get his head right – maybe as an impact player against tired legs he’ll have more success in front of goal.

The other selection headache is in midfield; namely does Eck bring back Swedish wideman Seb Larsson and/or Belarusian midfielder Hleb; or does he stick with a midfield that did fairly well on Sunday? Again, I think this has to be about attacking intent; a team that starts with Larsson and Bentley on either wing is going to be able to offer Blues an attacking threat from either side and maybe give the team a more balanced look; however with Bowyer on the left the side is probably going to be harder to break down if a little narrow. Whilst Hleb is undoubtedly one of the club’s more talented players, I struggle to see where he can fit in the side; playing him in the middle would possibly weaken the team a little as Hleb can go missing in some games whereas playing him out wide wastes his talents. The only other place to play him is in “the hole”, and that would mean just one striker – and I think that the team has been far superior with two recently for Blues to change that.

I think this is going to be a very tough match to call, but I am hopeful and I do think we can win this. Results have slowly improved recently, and I think the whole feelgood factor about Blues going to Wembley has permeated throughout the team, and players are trying harder to ensure their berth in the side for the final. I’m going for a 2-1 win, with Zigic and Martins to score for Blues in front of the Tilton.

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