Ageing stars given final chance to shine

WITH THE Blues on the brink of a takeover, Saturday s visitors may soon be getting a rebrand, maybe even a new slogan. Perhaps Birmingham City – last on Match of the Day . After finishing as last season s runners-up in the Championship...

By Ben Pearce

WITH THE Blues on the brink of a takeover, Saturday's visitors may soon be getting a rebrand, maybe even a new slogan. Perhaps "Birmingham City - last on Match of the Day".

After finishing as last season's runners-up in the Championship, Alex McLeish's side have made a less than thrilling return to the Premier League.

A 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford on the opening day was hardly shameful, but the Midlands outfit are yet to score from open play in 270 minutes.

Only a last-minute penalty against Portsmouth has saved Blues fans from enduring two successive goalless draws, and Saturday's stalemate with Stoke City barely provided a shot on goal from either team.

Birmingham should arguably be popular with neutrals as 21 members of the squad are English, Irish or Scottish, as is the manager, but there has been precious little to cheer thus far - and it isn't a massive surprise.

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McLeish may be aiming for the tried and tested blend of youth and experience, but a glance at the teamsheet reveals a poisonous cocktail of tiring, over-familiar faces and new blood who are untested at the top level.

There are exceptions, and on-loan goalkeeper Joe Hart has been an unfortunate victim of Manchester City's revolution, having been replaced by Shay Given after steadily making a name for himself.

Former Middlesbrough and Fulham defender Franck Queudrue could claim to be a solid top-flight defender, while striker Kevin Phillips has always scored goals in the top flight and James McFadden made 139 appearances for Everton.

However, McLeish is also surrounded by ageing journeymen who graced the pages of Panini sticker albums in the 1990s.

Stephen Carr was a useful full-back for both Spurs and Newcastle but, having initially retired from football back in December after his Magpies contract expired, it is astounding to see the 33-year-old lining up against Premier League wingers.

Meanwhile 32-year-old midfielder Lee Bowyer has recently arrived on a free transfer, striker Marcus Bent is now at his 11th club and reserve goalkeeper Maik Taylor turns 38 this week, making 33-year-old ex-Everton midfielder Lee Carsley look positively youthful.

Carsley is currently being kept out of the side by 31-year-old Barry Ferguson, who has a point to prove after an unconvincing one-and-a-half years at Blackburn Rovers - suspicions remain that he is only top-flight quality north of Hadrian's wall.

And he is not the only one to have question marks over their Premier League credentials.

Ex-Liverpool left-back Gregory Vignal - a new recruit - was recently shunned by QPR after a trial, while winger Gary McSheffrey failed to make the step up from the Championship at the last attempt.

Centre-back Roger Johnson is making his top-flight bow, while midfielder Keith Fahey - who crossed Birmingham from Aston Villa in January - never made a league appearance for the Villans.

Forwards Garry O'Connor and �8.5million summer signing Christian Benitez are also new to the Premier League and are yet to score this season - as is Cameron Jerome, who scored at the Lane in December 2007.

However, that is a 'glass half empty' analysis of Birmingham's early-season form, and the manager will be more than happy with his defence, which has shipped just one goal in three games - at Old Trafford.

The Blues also sit eighth ahead of Saturday's kick-off after taking four points against likely relegation rivals Portsmouth and Stoke.

Ham&High verdict: On paper, the Blues are no match for Spurs, who must concentrate on putting the game to bed when leading at home this season.

Again Aaron Lennon will be the key man. He will face Carr or Vignal, depending on whether Vignal recovers from injury in time. Either way Spurs will constantly aim to get Lennon one-one-one against a weaker opponent.

The winger's decision-making and the quality of his final ball will be a big factor in determining the result, and the score-line.

Tottenham win (2-0)