McFadden has right spirit to haunt Everton

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The Independent Online

Birmingham City have won their last five games. Manager Alex McLeish has named the same starting XI in each. So much for the importance of squad rotation. It is not that simple of course but, as James McFadden points out, it might not be entirely irrelevant either. "The manager has to trust his players, but the players have to trust each other, and we do, we've got a great spirit, if somebody is maybe not at it, there's no shortage of people around them will tell them.

"I wouldn't say the manager is a disciplinarian but he likes to keep a tight ship, and I think the players are similar. That's where the trust comes from, when the chips are down."

Which means injuries permitting, McLeish will name the same side for today's match at Everton. Six top-flight wins in a row would be a club record, although as far as McFadden is concerned, they should have already passed that particular milestone.

"We beat Sunderland and drew against Liverpool and Man City before we started this run, and we should have won both , so we've been playing well for longer than some people realise. But it's a fine margin at this level; there hasn't been more than one goal in it in any of our matches this season.

"What we're achieving may be surprising some people, but we've always thought we were a good team. Going into games now there's no fear, we arrive thinking we can't see ourselves getting beat, whereas before we'd be maybe thinking we'd do well to pick up a point."

It would be pleasing, McFadden concedes, to set a record against the club who sold him to Birmingham for £4.75m in January last year. The Scotland international spent five years at Goodison, and a return of 18 goals from 139 appearances over that time suggests David Moyes never really worked out how to get the best from a player whose skill is undoubted, but who some find hard to categorise.

McLeish, however, seems to have found him an attacking midfield role that works. "I know people see James as a bit of a maverick in doing the magic things upfront and the other side of the game is not his strength, but he has worked really hard for the team," said McLeish. "Watching the Blackburn game again you can see him chasing back and getting into positions for the team.

"The bottom line is the application of the individual; if James wants to do it, he can do it. He's enjoying his football too; there were a couple of games where he wasn't getting into positions in forward areas, and he felt he was worrying too much about if we lost the ball, he would get caught out of position.

"But we've got such a good understanding with the team right now because they have been playing together so long, players are filling in for each other. It is nice to see James going where the ball is and getting involved. But you can't play the game without a smile on your face and that is the type of player he is."

Both manager and player stress that the season's primary aim, staying up, is not yet achieved, but equally, there is a sense that Birmingham have a solidity that makes it unlikely they will "do a Hull" and end up hanging on.

"We've managed to get ourselves in a good position in the League table, but to get carried away and start saying we're going to finish sixth and get into Europe would be foolish," said McFadden. "But with the way we're playing at the minute, if we get to 40 points, we can start to relax a bit more and look beyond that."

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