KENNY DALGLISH will attempt to succeed tomorrow where both Roy Hodgson and Rafa Benitez before him failed.
Not since May 2004 when goals from Michael Owen, Emile Heskey and Steven Gerrard secured a 3-0 win at St Andrew’s have Liverpool taken maximum points against Birmingham City.
Benitez didn’t manage it in eight attempts and Hodgson’s only shot at breaking the hoodoo ended in a dour goalless draw in the Midlands last September.
The last seven league meetings between the clubs have all finished in stalemate and that’s a run the Reds need to end at Anfield tomorrow if they are to keep their hopes of European qualification alive.
With five games to go, there is little margin for error as Dalglish’s side try to catch fifth-placed Tottenham while holding off the advances of Everton, who are now only two points adrift.
Alex McLeish’s Birmingham still have plenty to play for themselves as they stand just five points above the drop zone.
The Carling Cup winners went down 3-1 at Chelsea on Wednesday night but Dalglish is full of praise for the job his fellow Scot has done.
“It was a fantastic success in the Carling Cup, which maybe affected them a little bit in the league, but I think they’ll be safe,” he said.
“Alex will be looking for a few more points to guarantee their safety, but there are going to be an awful lot of points dropped or won at the bottom and I think they’ll be good enough to get through it.
“If they’ve won the Carling Cup and survive in the Premier League, they’ll have had a fantastic season. Alex has done a fantastic job for them there.”
The Reds’ task is made harder by a growing casualty list. A pulled hamstring at Arsenal has seen Fabio Aurelio join Steven Gerrard, Martin Kelly, Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger in the treatment room.
A decision has yet to be made over whether Jamie Carragher (concussion) and Andy Carroll (knee) are fit to play.
Academy starlets John Flanagan and Jack Robinson are both set to start and Dalglish is hoping to see the same kind of spirit he witnessed at the Emirates last Sunday when Dirk Kuyt’s last-gasp spot-kick rescued a point.
“We’ve got a few injuries and it’s how we react to that that’s most important to us,” he said.
“They’ve done fantastically well in adversity. When you consider what happened last Sunday, we started without our captain, then we lost Fabio, lost our captain and lost Andy up front.
“Then we’ve got 17 and 18-year-olds at full-back against English, French and Russian internationals, and it didn’t faze them. They got on with it, accepted their lot and did the club proud.”
Right-back Flanagan is expected to start for the third successive game, while it will be left-back Robinson’s full debut following his impressive contribution after he came off the bench against Arsenal.
Dalglish has been delighted by the way they have responded to their promotion to the first team squad but insists the duo need to be handled carefully.
“The fact it’s been against Man City and Arsenal speaks volumes for them and the way they’ve been brought up,” he added. “It’s to their credit that they came in, competed fantastically well and never looked out of place.
“We just hope it continues but at the same time we’re not going to get carried away and we’re not going to destroy the boys.
“It’s important we pick and choose when’s right and wrong for them to come in but at this moment in time we haven’t been afforded the comfort of doing that. We’ve got to be conscious of the fact they are only kids and we’ve got to look after them. We’ve got to keep their feet on the ground but they are very level headed. The boys that come through the Academy do so with the same principles that are relevant to being a decent footballer – that the team comes first.
“If you’re good enough, you’ll get an opportunity here. But as well as being good enough, you need a bit of luck. Their luck has been the fact we’ve had a few injuries.”
Another player who has caught the eye in recent weeks is Academy graduate Jay Spearing.
The 22-year-old midfielder didn’t start a league game under Hodgson but is now enjoying his best ever run in the side.
Tomorrow will be his fifth successive start and he has risen to the challenge in the absence of injured skipper Gerrard.
“Any team in the world would be a better team with Steven Gerrard playing in midfield and we’re no different,” he added. “You feel for players when they’re injured but when they are injured someone else steps up to the plate. It’s to their credit that they’ve all stepped up to the plate.
“Jay has always been a good passer but maybe now he’s got a bit more confidence and belief in himself.
“The games he’s had and the performances he’s put in will give him confidence. Jay’s been fantastic in the games he’s played for us, and that’s a great lift for everyone at the club.
“Jonjo Shelvey was doing really well as well until he got injured, but now he’s coming back in. Danny Wilson is the same and Martin Kelly too. They’ve all been really good for us this year.
“But Jay has been the one who’s done as much as anyone.”