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Jon Riley 4th Mar 2011 - 16:52

No Cup hangover for bouncing Blues

Birmingham v West Brom - 13:00 live on Sky Sports 2

Six days after their heroic performances on the hallowed Wembley turf, Birmingham City's players return to their beloved St Andrews to take on West Bromwich Albion.

The 2011 League Cup winners have rightly been lauded for their magnificent efforts in defeating heavy favourites Arsenal but could there be a case of ‘after the lord mayor's show' amongst the Blues' players? Sunday has been announced as the day for the victory parade but Alex McLeish will want to celebrate with three points in the bag from this west midlands derby.

Both Birmingham (7/5) and West Brom (21/10) are scrapping for their Premier League lives and know that a win against a relegation rival is worth its weight in proverbially gold. Successive 1-1 draws with Wolves and Stoke have kept West Brom out of the bottom three but they lie ominously just one point above the dropzone. Defeat in the Blues' last Premier League game against Newcastle ended a three match unbeaten run that had dragged them clear of the bottom three. A point ahead of their opponents West Brom, they do have two games in hand in which to secure more vital points.

A draw would in reality be of little use to either team. The Baggies have drawn four of their last five Premier League matches and the last three in a row. Manager Roy Hodgson is keen to turn those solitary points into three but will surely be glad that his team is no longer shipping in goals as they had previously. A stalemate at St Andrews can be backed at 21/10.

Birmingham's midfield duo of Barry Ferguson and Craig Gardner are major injury doubts while Roger Johnson has been cleared to play despite visibly struggling in the second half at Wembley.
McLeish may choose to rotate his squad as much as he can with the option of playing goal scoring heroes Nikola Zigic (5/1 first scorer, 5/4 anytime) and Obafemi Martins (4/1 first scorer, EVS anytime) as a pair upfront. Despite his gangly frame, Zigic's contribution against Arsenal was invaluable, not only grabbing himself a goal but in being a constant source of irritation to the Gunners' backline.

Returning to the fold will be the on loan David Bentley. The former Blackburn and Arsenal wide man was cup tied for Sunday's Wembley showpiece and will be desperate to remind the fans and his manager how good he really is. Bentley is priced at 4/1 to score anytime.

Peter Odemwingie (7/1 first scorer, 2/1 anytime) has recovered from an ankle injury and should lead the line for Roy Hodgson's team. The team has looked a little goal shy in those last two matches, only really coming to attacking life with the introduction of the Mexican Carlos Vela (8/1 first scorer, 7/4 anytime).

The on loan Vela has mainly been untilized from the bench, with Hodgson favouring a five man midfield to stop West Brom's porous defence being exposed. If West Brom are to win this match he may need to throw caution to the wind and give Vela the nod. His technique, skill and finishing prowess could be the key to unlocking a Birmingham back four that will eat up any high long balls thrown at it.

West Brom have now gone 26 matches without a clean sheet in the top flight so the 15/8 on offer for them to do just that looks a little small. If you believe that Scot Carson in the Baggies' net will be able to shut out the Blues it would make more sense to back West Brom to win to nil at 16/5.

The Blues have lost just three of their last 29 Premier League games at St Andrews and I feel that, with a jubilant St Andrews crowd behind them, they should have too much for West Brom.

My recommendations are:
Scorecast - Nikola Zigic and Birmingham to win 2-1 @ 40/1
Anytime goalscorer - Chris Brunt @ 5/1



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