McLeish's Birmingham defy odds
Alex McLeish insists the Premier League table that has Birmingham City perched in sixth place above Liverpool will not be a souvenir in his scrapbook - at least not unless it looks the same at the end of the season.
Birmingham's fifth successive league win, secured with a 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, at least means the scale of McLeish's work is down in black and white.
It also confirms that while Martin O'Neill is winning plaudits once more for guiding Aston Villa into the top four, great things are also being achieved down the road at St Andrew's.
Something is stirring in these parts - and Birmingham City and McLeish deserve their share of the spotlight just as much as neighbours Villa.
The wag who claimed Manchester United's 3-0 win against Wolves drove at the heart of Birmingham's chances of winning the Premier League had tongue firmly in cheek, but there is a rapid adjustment taking place at St Andrew's.
A season that started with success being measured by a place in the top 17 is now seeing sights set a little higher - and McLeish is happy to shoulder the added expectation.
Alex McLeish barks out instructions to his players
Birmingham's season is still about consolidation - and a mid-table finish must be regarded as huge success - but what a platform for progress McLeish has built.
The good news for Birmingham is that McLeish made it abundantly clear after this latest win that he will continue to throw challenges down to his players. The points in the bag are regarded as the foundation for more, not an insurance policy against future failings.
Birmingham will suffer hard times ahead, but McLeish and his players deserve all the credit currently coming their way for defying the odds and sending real optimism surging around St Andrew's.
McLeish is making life easy for new Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung. But what the Scot has done so far this season has earned him the right to make it more difficult for Yeung in January, when the Hong Kong businessman should reward him by signing some large transfer cheques.
Yeung has also found a manager who relishes the prospect of regime change. McLeish has faced unsettled times at St Andrew's, but his clear-headed and positive approach since the arrival of the new owners has made the transition a simple business.
No talk about Yeung getting in his own man. No need. Who could have done better than McLeish?
While Villa have been claiming the big headlines, and not without justification after winning at places like Manchester United, McLeish has been working the markets and making his plans just as shrewdly as O'Neill.
And this is why Birmingham have every chance of making this season a success story. Not with a top-six finish - there has to be realism - but by doing much more than simply survive.
I asked McLeish what philosophy he had laid out to his players before the start of the campaign. He replied: "Everyone knew what the first target was without me having to say anything. It was to finish in the top 17 in the Premier League. That was the mantra at the start of the season and remains the same, but we have to be confident about our team and about building on this fantastic first half of the season."
That is likely to come in the shape of the big spending promised by the new Yeung regime, although McLeish added: "I don't think we have got to go for a big 'Galactico' name that might upset the dressing room unless the players recognise he's going to make a huge difference to the team."
The prospect of joining a side nestling in the upper reaches of the Premier League, albeit unexpectedly, should also appeal to any potential new recruits.
So far, McLeish has built his side around players with plenty to prove.
Barry Ferguson was a composed presence against Blackburn Rovers, the club where he had an unfulfilling first spell in England. He also wants to make his mark after a somewhat sour end to his Rangers' career.
McLeish has also shown a sure touch with striker Cameron Jerome, backing him when goals failed to come and getting his reward with a double to beat Blackburn. If Chucho Benitez can add composure and clinical finishing to his burning pace and non-stop running, Birmingham might have a real impact player on their hands.
McLeish played down some of the element of surprise by reminding us, correctly, that he is used to success both as a player with Aberdeen and a manager with Rangers. He has an idea what is required, so no-one should be too stunned by his obvious competence.
But Birmingham's success so far should be celebrated, as Blackburn Rovers boss Sam Allardyce recognised, even in defeat.
So we should let Sam, looking in excellent shape after his recent heart surgery, have the final word. "Surely the headlines have to be about five successive Premier League wins for Birmingham," he said. "A marvellous, marvellous, marvellous achievement."
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