McLeish backs Ferguson spirit to keep City buoyant

Birmingham City 2 Burnley 1
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The Independent Football

The lighter side of Alex McLeish's personality shone through after Birmingham completed their St Andrew's campaign with a 15th unbeaten match in a row – but it was soon business as usual as he urged his players to avoid second-season syndrome by following the lead of the rehabilitated Barry Ferguson.

McLeish had addressed an exultant crowd after a routine win over relegated Burnley, secured by Brian Jensen's own goal and Christian Benitez's first home goal of a season-long loan before Steven Thompson's token riposte. Later the Birmingham manager admitted he was tempted to burst into song, a la Phil Brown, with "Fly Me To Dunoon", a Scottish twist on a Sinatra standard, or a "wee" rendition of ELO's "Mr Blue Sky".

His high spirits were understandable. Ferguson, who lost the Scotland captaincy in disgrace before coming south last summer, has been instrumental in achieving what is likely to be their first top-10 finish since 1959. "Barry has always been a great player," McLeish said. "But the Rangers fans weren't in love with him any more. He's such a determined character that when we spoke on the phone last summer, he told me his legs were fine and said 'Give me a trial'.

"The question was whether all the furore and negativity had dampened his spirit. I did some homework and made enquiries with people who worked with him up there, and they said I'd nothing to worry about."

Ferguson's metronomic midfield displays, along with Joe Hart's high-class goalkeeping, have helped Birmingham bridge the gulf between Championship and the elite in a manner Burnley briefly promised to achieve before Brian Laws succeeded Owen Coyle as manager.

"Now the challenge is not to be one-season wonders," McLeish said. "What I'll say to Roger Johnson, Scott Dann and all these lads is: 'Do it again, turn up for your work for the next 10 years like Barry Ferguson has done'."

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart; Parnaby (Fahey, 79), Johnson, Ridgewell, Vignal; Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, McFadden (Michel, 66); Jerome (Carsley, 90), Benitez. Substitutes not used Taylor (gk), Murphy, Tainio, Redmond.

Burnley (4-3-2-1): Jensen; Mears, Cort, Caldwell, Fox; Elliott, Alexander (McDonald, 85), Cort; Paterson, Nugent (Blake, 65); Fletcher (Thompson, 68). Substitutes not used Weaver (gk), Duff, Rodriguez, Bikey.

Referee P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Birmingham Parnaby, Vignal; Burnley Fox.

Man of the match Ferguson.

Attendance 24,578.