Stoke City Vs Birmingham, Mon 28 Dec 2009


Stoke midfield duo Glenn Whelan and Salif Diao will both miss Monday's encounter with Birmingham at the Britannia Stadium.

The pair both picked up their fifth bookings of the season in the 2-0 defeat at Manchester City and now serve automatic one-match bans.

In addition, Andy Wilkinson and Robert Huth (knee) picked up knocks, which makes them doubtful for Tony Pulis' side, who have collected just a single point from four games this month so far.

Pulis does not feel his team need to beat themselves up over their poor recent run.

The Potters have collected just a single point in December so far and never looked like adding to that tally once Martin Petrov had put City ahead.

It left them with just the game against in-form Blues to try to end the year on a high note and edge away from an increasingly congested scrap to avoid the relegation spots.

Yet Pulis is not getting too concerned.

While a failure to beat Wigan on home soil was a disappointment, defeats at Arsenal, Aston Villa and City were only what was expected given the respective imbalance in financial resources, and the fact each of those clubs is having a generally decent campaign.

"We have had a tough run of games," Pulis said.

"Arsenal, Aston Villa and Manchester City all away from home, with just one match at home in the middle is very difficult.

"But, as a Premier League club you just have to accept there will be a run of games where it is going to be difficult to pick points up.

"Now we have a run of home matches, which are going to be crucial."

Birmingham will assess the fitness of midfielder Sebastian Larsson ahead of the game.

Sweden international Larsson rolled his ankle in the goalless draw with Chelsea on Boxing Day and will be subject to a fitness test before the Potteries clash.

Boss Alex McLeish expects Joe Hart to be available despite the goalkeeper suffering a head injury in the Boxing Day clash.

Lee Bowyer also suffered a knock against the league leaders but defenders Roger Johnson and Liam Ridgewell appeared to come through unscathed after returning from injury.

McLeish believes Hart is doing his World Cup chances no harm at all after hailing the England squad man's "terrific" form this season.

Hart joined Birmingham on loan from Manchester City in the summer and after a few early mistakes has played an integral role in his side's current 10-match unbeaten run.

The former Shrewsbury youngster was a worthy man of the match against Chelsea and Scot McLeish believes the stopper is well worth consideration for the England number one jersey.

Asked whether his first target in the January transfer window is the permanent signature of Hart, McLeish said: "If I could and if it was a good deal, then yes.

"I think Joe has come on a ton. We started the season having spoken about one or two things and he's improved out of sight and I'm pleased for him. He's a conscientious big guy and his own worst critic.

"He studies everything and takes everything on the chin from the goalkeeping coach Dave Watson to try to improve.

"He's a guy who improves and wants to get better and better and his form has been terrific.

"I know the England coaches think a lot of him, and I think they will think even more of him now with his Birmingham performances."

Birmingham's revered defence is built around centre-half pairing Roger Johnson and Scott Dann as much as Hart, and McLeish is similarly delighted with his 'old school' duo.

"Dann and Johnson in particular just love heading balls and making tackles, they are real throwbacks," he said.

"That was part of the reason I bought them and I did some diligence on them. Speaking to people who had worked with them, coaches whom I trust in the game, and getting homework done like that is very beneficial.

"I knew when I spoke to certain people about Scott and Roger that I had to go for them."

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