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Stuart Dalgleish 14th Dec 2009 - 21:15

Buoyant Blues to keep European dream alive

It might sound crazy, but Birmingham City are very much in the shake-up for a place in Europe this season.

In August the Blues were being touted for a swift return to the Championship, but after a run of seven games undefeated, including four straight wins, Alex McLeish's side are sitting on the cusp of a place in the top five.

It's unlikely to happen and McLeish will tell you that the aim for the season is survival, which is understandable, but Fulham did last season so why not?

They have a solid defence, which is a great credit to the boss as his centre-backs are both new signings - Roger Johnson and Scott Dann - and his keeper Joe Hart is only here on a yearlong loan (which I'm sure McLeish will be hoping to make permanent).

They've got creativity in midfield with the likes of Sebastian Larsson and Lee Bowyer, and Barry Ferguson is finally showing that he can be a success in the Premier League with a string of fine displays after a less than impressive spell at Tuesday night's opponents Blackburn a few years back.

The only problem for City seems to be scoring, as they have only managed 16 league goals so far - the joint fourth worst attack in the Premier League with Rovers. To be fair to Birmingham they are getting better, after scoring just three goals in their first six league matches they have since only failed to score in one league fixture - against Man City.

That lack of a genuine goal scoring threat means that despite their fine run the Blues are available at a decent price of 11/10 to win the match, the draw is a 21/10 shot while Rovers are also 21/10.

With goals at a premium for both teams I'd be looking at a 1-0 Birmingham win at odds of 5/1, and with that score line in mind Under 1.5 goals looks tempting at 21/10, but to be on the safe side I'd invest more in Under 2.5 at 4/6.

Christian Benitez (5/1 to grab the opener, 5/4 to notch at anytime of the match) seems to finding his feet after a slow start to life in the Midlands and he's got two in his last five, but the value lies with Bowyer at the minute.

The one-time England international has had many years of struggle trying to recapture the form which made him one of the most outstanding players in the Premier League during his time at Leeds, but he seems to be bang in form for City just now with three goals in his last four games and is well worth a punt at 15/2 for the opener (which he has done in Birmingham's last two home games), 9/4 to strike at anytime of the game also appeals.

Blackburn are really struggling for goals of late, and haven't scored in their last four league matches so goodness knows how they managed to score three against Chelsea in the League Cup. It makes it all the more puzzling as to why Sam Allardyce seems to be ready to let Benni McCarthy (7/1 for the first, 2/1 to score at anytime) leave Ewood Park, perhaps it's a clash of personalities as that was the reason why he was out of favour with South Africa for a while but for me he's clearly a better a striker than Franco di Santo (6/1 first, 7/4 any) and should be starting ahead of the on-loan Chelsea man.

It promises to be a good battle, so make sure you join us when the action gets underway as we'll be bringing you a wealth of in-running markets with our brilliant In-Play service.



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