McLeish is looking to tighten up

Birmingham back four told to rediscover mean streak after latest wobble
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The Independent Football

Alex McLeish, the Birmingham City manager, has challenged his side's defence to recover their resilience and ensure their season does not fizzle out.

Birmingham have built their surprise success in the Premier League on the form of centre-backs Roger Johnson and Scott Dann, who have made the step-up from the Championship after previously starring for Cardiff and Coventry respectively. But McLeish's team have started to leak goals and head to Blackburn tonight with a record which shows they have managed only one clean sheet in the last 11 League and cup matches.

Sloppy play cost them two early goals during Saturday's 3-1 reversal at Sunderland. Now McLeish wants Birmingham to find their mean streak again and clinch a top-10 finish in their first season back in the top flight.

The former Scotland manager said: "If you sat down and watched the Sunderland game again, you could see there were enormous positives to take from the game because we were fantastic in the second half. But our start was shocking, we were all over the place, we weren't as compact as we normally are and the reputation we have earned this season for being that way.

"We were just too open in certain areas and too slack and it cost us dearly, We have spoken about it, looked at it, the players have taken it on the chin and we will look to start the Blackburn game the way we finished the Sunderland game."

McLeish added: "Can we get higher in the table? It will be tough but we are capable if we get back to the shut-outs. If we get shut-outs between now and the end of the season, then we are capable of scoring a goal, there is no doubt about that.

"We've got to get to that strong resilience at the back that has served us so well for virtually this entire season.

"In fairness, if we were to finish the season another three or four notches down, it would still be a marvellous season. We don't plan to do that and I don't plan to let up with the lads. We have got a little bit slack on fine details in the games and I've pointed that out.

"Sometimes the players think I am splitting hairs but, believe me, it's splitting the hairs that makes you winners."

Striker Cameron Jerome will be looking to maintain his fine form, having scored four times in the last three matches. McLeish said: "Cameron has been great. His level has been fantastic. His Pro Zone stats have also been of a high calibre also.His retention of the ball, his use of the ball, has all been above the average for the Premier League. It is great stats for Cameron and he should be proud of those and he has made great progress."

McLeish is aware Blackburn will provide formidable opponents, particularly after they held title-chasing Chelsea to a 1-1 home draw on Sunday. He said: "Blackburn have been strong at home. Sam Allardyce has based his Premier League status particularly on the home games and they are a tough nut to crack there."