McLeish realistic despite fine run
Cross-city rivals Aston Villa are cock-a-hoop after reaching their first major final for a decade after their dramatic semi-final triumph over Blackburn. And McLeish knows the expectations of the Blues supporters are sky high after a 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions lifted them into the top 10 of the Premier League. But he accepts City will be underdogs when they face revitalised Everton in Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Goodison Park. McLeish said: "We know the expectations of supporters have gone up after seeing the way we have played this season and with the new owners making money available for players. "It has perked the fans up a bit and given them a new sense of optimism. We have surprised people with the way we have performed during the first half of the season. "It would be marvellous to go to Goodison Park and win but we would have to be punching above our weight to achieve what Aston Villa have done although there is nothing wrong in having the vision that you can cause an upset. "If we can win there, I am sure the belief of the players will go through the roof but realistically it would be difficult for us to win the FA Cup. "Everton are back on track after a difficult first half of the season and will be the bookmakers' favourites against us. We have just got to try and prove them wrong." McLeish will include new signing, Sporting Gijon play-maker Michel, in his squad to face the Toffees after the postponement of last week's Premier League clash at Portsmouth. But he is also hoping to bring in other new blood and has confirmed an interest in signing Rangers striker Kris Boyd and is optimistic of finally landing Villa midfielder Craig Gardner for around £3.5million. McLeish has already helped to revitalise the career of former Rangers and Scotland player Barry Ferguson at St Andrew's. He would favour a pre-contract deal for Boyd, who will become a free agent in the summer, but equally would be happy if a deal could be struck during the January window. McLeish, who would not comment on whether he wants to sign Liverpool striker Ryan Babel, said: "Boyd is out of contract in the summer and it is possible we could do some business there but I am not committing myself. "As regards Gardner, we are waiting for the go ahead from the bosses at the club in terms of a final sanction but we are pretty close (to a deal). "We have got Michel in, the Gardner link is there, but we will also try and do something else before the end of the transfer window." Blues have just returned from a four-day warm weather training break in Malta and McLeish has challenged his players to maintain the standards shown from August to January through until May. He said: "It has been a good break and it was good for the players to train on grass again after all the snow. But it was also ideal for recharging the batteries for what lies ahead. "Nothing has been achieved yet. I have to keep stressing that. We have changed a few people's opinions about us but we know there are tough games ahead and a busy schedule. "The appetite of the players has been whetted during the first half of the season and there is no reason why we can't aim to do even better during the second half of the season."