Teams meet in League Cup at St Andrew's
25 September ~ Former League Cup holders Birmingham City welcome the current holders to St Andrew's tonight at an early stage of a season which can be described as "difficult". Last weekend's win over Sheffield Wednesday at least ensured they kept out of the relegation places, but with only seven points from eight games manager Lee Clark will know that he needs to focus on Championship survival rather than a cup run. Despite this he has resisted the temptation to rest players, recognising that he risks a damaging defeat if he does so.
There's no doubt that Swansea City, playing their fourth game in nine days, will rotate their team and key players such as Michu, Ashley Williams and Michel Vorm are all likely to be rested. Despite this they have a strong enough squad to ensure they will enter the tie as firm favourites. Manager Michael Laudrup has compiled a squad of around 23 players and, with a minimum of ten extra matches in the Europa League, he was given significant funds in the summer to strengthen the team. The most expensive of his summer signings was the £12 million spent on Wilfried Bony, a striker who may well start the game given he was an unused substitute at Crystal Palace on Sunday.
What would Clark give to be able to call on a £12m striker? Goals have been a key problem this season for a team that before last Saturday had only managed an average of a goal every two league games. He has tried to address this with Jesse Lingard, a loan signing from Manchester United who announced his arrival by scoring all four goals in Saturday's win – surely the most impressive Birmingham debut since a 16-year-old Trevor Francis. Unfortunately under the terms of his loan deal Lingard is unavailable for this match, as is central defender Kyle Bartley. It is evidence of the strength of the current Swansea side that Bartley, a £1m signing from Arsenal last year, was allowed to go out on a season-long loan.
While the teams have never met in this competition before, Birmingham have lost only one of the last seven games against their opponents. If they needed a further omen then it's in the League Cup this season where they have had no problem scoring goals, having managed three against both Plymouth and Yeovil in earlier rounds. For Swansea, this is their first League Cup match since winning at Wembley last March and they will be very keen to progress further. Paul Ashley-Jones