Chris Hughton admits Birmingham's double cup adventure this season has affected their Championship promotion hopes – but the City manager is adamant that he would not have sacrificed the experience his younger players have gained in their Europa League and FA Cup runs for more league points.
The Blues, who lost their FA Cup replay 2-0 to Chelsea on Tuesday night, will have played 63 games by May if they achieve their objective of returning to the Premier League via the play-offs.
Looking ahead, Hughton explained; "We said [about] all the cup games, even the Europa League, that we would embrace the competitions and get the best from them. We have enjoyed those runs but we also knew that if we went out of any of the cups, it does give us that opportunity to concentrate on the league.
"It has been our biggest focus and it has to be. Have the cups been a welcome distraction? Yes, they have – but, of course, they have been a distraction.
"How would our league position be if we hadn't been in the cups? Arguably we would have been in a better position. But if you ask me if I would rather have done without the cups, then I would have said no."
He added: "The cup competitions have given a lot of players here great experience, particularly the younger players like Nathan Redmond and Jordon Mutch.
"I think it has added to what we've had at the club this season. Now we have an opportunity to concentrate on what is important for us, and that's making sure we stay in contention for the play-offs."
Hughton is confident his small squad will not run out of steam after their demanding schedule. He said: "It's been a hell of a season but we are OK. If we can go through the rest of the season, and limit the injuries we've got, then we will certainly have a good enough squad to cope.
"It's then about making sure we get good enough results. The good thing about this bunch of players is that they want to play in all of the games – I don't get anyone saying they are feeling tired, or want to be left out.
"How we will fare in this last 13 games, I don't know. What we need to do is get back on track after a blip in the last couple of home games where we've not been at our best."