McLeish: 'West Ham taunts will not harm us'

City manager urges his players to ignore past owners' 'sideshow'
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The Independent Football

Alex McLeish insists his Birmingham City players will not be distracted by the "sideshow" surrounding the club's owners past and present when they take on West Ham United at Upton Park tonight.

The current City owner Carson Yeung and his aides have been involved in several verbal exchanges with their predecessors, David Gold and David Sullivan, who have now taken charge at the Hammers.

Gold said he wanted Gianfranco Zola's side to "whack" Birmingham, who have been beaten just once in 15 league games.

But McLeish's main focus is on trying to ensure Blues gain the victory that would take them to the 40-point mark, which is usually viewed as the yardstick for ensuring survival in the top-flight for another season.

He said "I understand there's a few comments flying to and fro and it is an interesting game thrown up against the old owners. They need the points more than we do. I've been told what David Gold has said and that's sent shivers down my spine!

"But, listen, the two Davids are in it for West Ham – and they have the quality in the squad, no doubt about it. They have some terrific players. The business Zola did in January looks pretty good to me. Ilan made an instant impact, Mido of course, we know him very well. He's a big, strong centre-forward and he will bring a bit of quality to them."

Commenting further on Gold's remarks, McLeish said: "Listen, there is nothing like rousing your fans for a game. I'm sure the West Ham fans will stand up to the plate when the chips are down for them. Ultimately I think they will be okay. They have got enough quality.

"But the little sideshows are irrelevant. It's what happens on the field," said McLeish. "West Ham will be up for it but we go down there with confidence after a great victory at the weekend."

The Scotsman will demand his players do not rest on their laurels even if they are virtually assured of top-flight football for a second successive season. He said: "I think we're in a good position. The three points at the weekend against Wolves were vital for us. Anyone getting to the 37 mark would virtually stay up.

"But there are 42 points to play for and we want to get as many of them as possible. To go as high up the league as we can go is the vision, the challenge to the players.

"We've got to keep going and not think 'let's down tools and take it easy'. Players have got to keep playing every single game at full tilt and defend the reputation they have now got for resilience and for never giving up. They have got to defend that reputation right to the last day of the season."

McLeish has to decide whether to give a rare start to the striker Kevin Phillips after his brace as a substitute against Wolverhampton, particularly with Christian Benitez sidelined with an ankle injury.

He said: "It's not an easy decision because Kevin's confidence will be sky-high after the weekend. But I spoke to him at the beginning of the season about his role and I felt he would be better as an impact player for us.

"When defences are getting a bit tired, and we can pin opposition back in their own box, then there's nobody better to have at your disposal than Kevin Phillips," said McLeish. "Would I be doing him a favour starting games? I would have to communicate with him about that, be adult and grown up about it, and whether I feel I'm doing him a favour starting remains to be seen.

"You never know. He might start banging in goals from the start of games as well. But my tactical brain and my experience tells me that he may be more effective using him the way we did at the weekend."