Thursday, December 15, 2011

Spector eyes Blues Euro test

Jonathan Spector's Birmingham City take on Slovenia's SK Maribor at St Andrews tonight, knowing their Europa League odyssey will come to an end if they fail to win.

"We are making a good run of it, " Spector told NSC, "so hopefully we can advance to the group stage. We definitely want to make the most of this and get as far as we possibly can."

The Blues' European campaign started badly with a 3-1 home defeat to Braga in September before away wins at Maribor and Brugge lifted them to second in Group H.

But a 2-2 draw at home to Brugge and a 1-0 loss at Braga means their destiny is out of their hands going into tonight's fixture.

While the Blues should have no problem taking maximum points from the group's whipping-boys at home this evening, they also need Braga to win in Belgium in order to progress to the knock-out stage of 32 teams, whose field so far includes Ajax, Manchester City, Manchester United and Valencia.

Win or lose, the US international has enjoyed this overseas assignment at his new club and dismisses talk that the much-criticised calendar of the competition takes a negative toll on the players.

"With the Europa League we have more on our plate than other teams," Spector confirmed, "but they are games the players all look forward to as an added bonus. The schedule can seem pretty chaotic but it is certainly something I am enjoying a great deal."

Having dropped a division after eight years in the Premier League, the chance of regular European football for the 25 year-old has come as a welcome addition.

"I had a couple of games in Europe with Manchester United in the Champions League," Spector recalled, "and once with West Ham in the UEFA Cup, but this is the first time I have really been involved in all the games and the traveling.

It is great to have the opportunity to play in Europe in the first place and to play and adjust to the different styles of football."

Top priority for Chris Hughton's team remains the league however, as their two games in hand could lift them from 13th to 6th and the playoff positions, a point Spector is quick to acknowledge:

"We have done well on the road winning our two away games in Europe but we also need to focus on the league when we are back on English soil. Getting back to the Premier League is the main thing."

- Sean O'Conor

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