Chris Hughton has admitted that Birmingham City "could do without" the Europa League, and has predicted the Midlands club will face problems if they reach the group stages of the competition because of the lack of depth in his squad and the demands of competing in the Championship.
Birmingham host Nacional on Thursday night in what will be the first European match at St Andrew's since they played Roma in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup 50 years ago. After a credible goalless draw against the Portuguese side in Madeira in the first leg last week, Birmingham have a reasonable chance of progressing beyond the final qualifying round and guaranteeing another six European fixtures.
Hughton is fully aware that the club's supporters would like nothing more than to see Birmingham extend their European run after so many years in the wilderness, yet he is also concerned that a threadbare squad will struggle to cope with a gruelling 46-game Championship season and Thursday night European football.
"Could we do without it? Yes we could," said the Birmingham manager. "But we're also very conscious of what it means to the club and the supporters. The supporters have waited a long time and if we asked the supporters whether they wanted us in this competition or out, they would want us in it. They're the balances [you have to weigh up] but whichever side we are able to put out [on Thursday night], we will certainly be going out to win the game."
The combination of an exodus of players over the summer and a spate of injuries – Marlon King, Nikola Zigic, Cameron Jerome, Jordon Mutch, Morgaro Gomis, Liam Ridgewell and Scott Dann are all sidelined – has left Birmingham's squad looking painfully thin and have added to Hughton's unease as he contemplates the prospect of additional fixtures. Yet he also appreciates that a victory against Nacional would be a major boost.
"We have injuries at the moment that make selection and the amount of games that we've got difficult. But you need to come through that," said Hughton. "Also, for us to win against Nacional, it's the lift that it gives everybody and sometimes you can use that to the benefit of the team. So, very much mixed feelings in terms of the games point of a view – going through in this competition would certainly give us problems. But I'm very aware what the competition means to the supporters."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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