Birmingham City lock horns with bitter rivals Aston Villa for a place in the semi-final of this season’s Carling Cup when they meet at St Andrews on Wednesday night.
Birmingham won their only major trophy after inflicting a rare cup defeat on their city rivals when winning the first leg 3-1 before a draw in the return game secured the 1963 League Cup.
That was City’s only victory in 10 cup contests against their neighbours and Villa will be hoping to uphold that form and claim a record-breaking 14th League Cup semi-final appearance.
Blues’ boss Alex McCleish has said that avoiding relegation is more important than winning the Carling Cup this season and has progressed this far by fielding second string elevens.
But, since Stephen Carr’s strike which decided the penalty shoot out against Brentford in the fourth round at St Andrews, Birmingham have gone a further five games unbeaten and have overtaken Villa in the Premier League standings.
McCleish has admitted he would love to reach the semi-finals and could be feeling inclined to build on the growing confidence within the squad and field a strong side in a push to bring some rare silverware to St Andrews.
The City manager has almost his full squad from which to select, James McFadden has been missing most of the season and is unlikely to return until February.
Alexandr Hleb, who has come in for criticism from his boss for his lack of contribution in his early appearances, is expected to miss out with a slight hamstring injury suffered at Fulham last weekend.
Midfielder Craig Gardner will face a fitness test on the ankle injury that kept out of the last two Birmingham games and could be in line to face his old club.
Back-up goalkeeper, Maik Taylor is fit again following his shoulder problem but not expecting to replace first choice Ben Foster.
Gerrard Houlier was in charge at Anfield when Birmingham were agonizingly beaten by Liverpool in the 2001 League Cup final and he went on to lift the trophy again in 2003.
But having returned to English shores for a second managerial stint, the Frenchman’s start at Aston Villa has been hampered with injury and he will be without 10 first-team players for Wednesday’s clash.
Stephen Ireland, with a sickness bug, is the latest casualty that includes Carlos Cuellar (calf), Emile Heskey (knee), Nigel Reo-Coker (knee), Marc Albrighton (appendix), Fabian Delph (knee), Stiliyan Petrov (knee), Steve Sidwell (Achilles) and Andreas Weimann (ankle) who are all sidelined.
Striker Gabriel Agbonlahor is set to return after recovering from illness and defender James Collins has shaken off the calf strain from the weekend defeat against Arsenal.
Houlier has suggested he will use central defender Ciaran Clark as cover in midfield and is likely to bring in a number of the club’s youngsters for the derby battle.
21-year-old Scottish midfielder Barry Bannan has been introduced into the first team and acquitted himself well in eight appearances and should figure.
The Blues broke Villa’s six game derby winning streak with a 0-0 draw at Villa Park at the end of October and are in a strong position to go one better on Wednsday.
Victor Chandler bet 6/4 for Birmingham to grab their first win over their city rivals since March 2005.