McLeish pride at big four record

Birmingham manager delighted with side's efforts against the leading clubs
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The Independent Online

Alex McLeish has revealed his pride at Birmingham City taking points off all of the big four clubs in their first season back in the Premier League.

The Blues shared the spoils in the home matches with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal and also claimed a point at Liverpool, who visit St Andrew's on Sunday.

City have faded away from home in recent weeks but McLeish is adamant the season has been a resounding success whatever happens between now and May. And, if Birmingham manage to cling on to their current ninth position, it will be their highest top flight finish for 51 years.

"It has been fantastic, a great achievement to take points off all of the normal top four clubs," McLeish said. "We would have liked to have taken more. We've got Liverpool at home next and we have played well against other top teams at St Andrew's.

"It has been difficult for us to win on the road recently but no one finds it easy away from home – as Arsenal found against us at the weekend.

"Even if we don't finish the season so well, it wouldn't leave a cloud over the summer. That is unfair," McLeish added. "The one thing the owners said to me when they came in was 'make sure we're in the Premier League at the end of the season'. We basically achieved that by the end of February.

"At the end of the day, I can't guarantee we won't finish the season by losing some games or dropping some points. But what I can guarantee is that the players will give everything and I can't criticise the way we have played."

McLeish has been told he must wait until the close season to see if he can sign Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart on loan for a second season. Hart has been in outstanding form since his temporary switch from Eastlands and emerged as a strong contender to be part of England's World Cup squad.

McLeish is keen to retain Hart's services for another 12 months and ideally would like to get approval from Roberto Mancini sooner rather than later. But the former Scotland manager has been told he must hold fire until the summer. McLeish said: "City are not going to make any decisions regarding Joe until the summer. They have confirmed that to us now. We would like to sign Joe for another season. The keeping role is massively important and that's why I'd like to get City's nod of approval. That would help us in terms of us knowing what we are doing but there will be no news until the summer."

McLeish is full of praise for the way Hart has adjusted to life at St Andrew's after the arrival of Shay Given at Eastlands saw him lose his first team spot. "A top-class 'keeper can save you 10-12 points every season and Joe has certainly done that already," he said. "I believe he has done well enough to go to the World Cup but it is down to Fabio Capello. I am not picking his team."

McLeish remains optimistic that left-back Liam Ridgewell and midfielder Sebastian Larsson will sign new deals with Blues. The duo are both out of contract in the summer although the Blues can take up two year and 12 months options respectively. "We're working on Liam and Seb," McLeish said. "As far as I'm aware, we are quite close with things. I'm sure the guys will get a fair offer each."

Ridgewell has slotted in effectively into his new role after previously playing predominantly as a central defender. Larsson has lost his place in the starting line-up recently to January signing Craig Gardner but remains a player McLeish wants to keep in assembling his squad for next season.

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