Birmingham Vs West Ham United, Sat 12 Dec 2009

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Kevin Phillips will return to the Birmingham squad for the home Barclays Premier League clash with West Ham.

The veteran striker has been sidelined for the past fortnight with a foot problem and will provide back-up for the first-choice pairing of Cameron Jerome and Christian Benitez.

Fellow forward Garry O'Connor and on-loan Sunderland midfielder Teemu Tainio remain long-term injury absentees after hip and knee operations respectively.

Blues manager Alex McLeish has no fresh injury problems as his side look to extend their unbeaten record to seven matches.

Lee Bowyer insists it was not a gamble for him to leave West Ham and join Birmingham as he prepares to face his former club.

And McLeish believes the former England midfielder has taken his game to "another level" this season.

Bowyer was deemed surplus to requirements in the final year of his contract at Upton Park and allowed to move to Blues last January, initially on loan before making the move permanent in the summer.

The 32-year-old admits it would have been an easy option to remain in London and pick up his wages but he was desperate to start playing again, albeit initially by dropping down into the Coca-Cola Championship.

But Bowyer played a major role in helping City gain promotion back to the Barclays Premier League and is their top scorer during the current campaign with five goals.

Bowyer told Press Association Sport: "Was it a gamble leaving West Ham, dropping down a league? I wouldn't say I took a gamble.

"Birmingham were a good side who were unlucky to go down from the Premier League the season before, I think by only the one point.

"From my point of view, all I wanted to do was get back playing. You've got to grab the chance to do that with both hands and play as much as you possibly can - because one day it will stop.

"I don't why but, for one reason or other, West Ham didn't want to extend my contract so I came to Birmingham and it has turned out to be a good thing for all parties.

"Yes, some would have been happy to stay and pick up their money, especially with me being from London and that being where I live but I just want to play football.

"That's the main thing. I'm back playing and enjoying my football and waking up on a Sunday after a win and feeling happy."

West Ham United

West Ham will again be without centre-back Matthew Upson for the game.

The England defender has failed to recover from a hamstring injury, and stays on the sidelines alongside Carlton Cole (knee ligaments), Valon Behrami (knee) and Luis Jimenez (muscle strain).

Forward Zavon Hines (knee) has also joined the absentee list but midfielder Mark Noble is back after missing last weekend's 4-0 defeat to Manchester United with a virus.

Meanwhile, manager Gianfranco Zola admits his struggling side's attacking plans have been left in tatters following Dean Ashton's decision to retire from football because of injury.

Ashton, 26, announced on Friday he would be hanging up his boots after failing in his bid to fully recover from an ankle problem sustained while training with England in August 2006.

With the former Crewe striker having last played for the Hammers 15 months ago, the news of his retirement has not come as a major surprise to many, although Zola admits he never prepared himself for life without Ashton and always expected him to return.

That means Zola is now left short up front - especially with Cole set to be out for at least another month with a knee-ligament injury - and has the wrong kind a selection headache in terms of attacking options for the trip to Birmingham.

"I always hoped he would be playing for me since the summer," said the Italian, who now has just one fit out-and-out striker in his squad in Guillermo Franco.

"All our campaign during the summer was conditioned to the fact that we were waiting for him. We left a place for him as we strongly hoped he would be back.

"I feel for him and I feel for me as well as I wonder what it would have been like to have a player like him in my squad, as he would have made a big difference for us. That is my sorrow."

Zola added: "Saturday is a big game and we are prepared. We trained very well this week and I saw the boys quite focused and tuned in.

"It is vital and is an opportunity to get the three points in our situation."

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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Lee Bowyer
Premier League
West Ham United
Kevin Phillips

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