Mancini up for Birmingham test
City head to St Andrew's on Wednesday night knowing three points are a necessity if they are to keep tabs on Premier League leaders Manchester United. Yet winning against Alex McLeish's side is something the Blues failed to achieve at Eastlands earlier in the season. On that occasion, Mancini was condemned for his negative substitutions during a drab goalless draw and received the full brunt of the frustration from the stands. Since then, City have collected 23 points from a possible 33, establishing themselves in the top four and maintaining a keen interest in the title race. And, with last summer's arrivals now properly bedded in and Edin Dzeko's £27million transfer-window purchase from Wolfsburg adding further strength, Mancini feels Birmingham will encounter a far better team than the one they frustrated a couple of months ago. "The team has improved a lot since November," said Mancini. "We can win tomorrow, but we must play well because it will be a different game to the last one. "I certainly have respect for Birmingham. They are a good team and have a cup final coming up." City will hope for better fortune on their third visit to the midlands in 12 days. Sunday's scrappy FA Cup draw at Notts County was preceded by a surprise defeat at Aston Villa, one of only two losses since that earlier Birmingham draw. Yet the setback leaves City knowing further dropped points may be impossible to claw back. "It is time we returned to winning ways away from home after the matches at Villa and Notts County, but the away form isn't a frustration for me," said Mancini. "I understand football very well. I know that there are some moments where maybe you can't score or you concede a goal." Mancini will reinforce his starting line-up by recalling Kolo Toure, Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong and David Silva, who all started the Notts County game on the bench. In addition, skipper Carlos Tevez is expected to shrug off a minor back complaint. However, Mancini does have injury problems to contend with. Adam Johnson is a long-term absentee, even if the England star does not require surgery to resolve the ankle ligament damage he suffered in a freak training ground incident last week. Despite playing down fears over Micah Richards, who had to be helped off at Meadow Lane on Sunday, Mancini will also be without the England defender, although it is hoped his ankle problem will ease sufficiently for him to feature against West Brom at the weekend. It promises to be a special night for Joe Hart, whose season-long loan at Birmingham last term might have ended in frustrating fashion for City, who were refused permission to recall the player when Shay Given was sidelined during the final weeks of the campaign, but whose spell under McLeish has helped catapult him to the top of Fabio Capello's list of goalkeepers. "I am sure Joe is very popular with the Birmingham fans because he did very well for them last season," said Mancini. "It was an important experience for him because now he is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe."