Barnsley chief Hill threatens defensive changes to plug leaks

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BARNSLEY manager Keith Hill says stopping Birmingham City will be a tall order even in the absence of giant striker Nikola Zigic.

Third-placed Birmingham have brushed aside everyone in the last few weeks, winning seven games out of eight and surging up the Championship table.

In Serbian international Zigic, they have one of the tallest players in world football but the 6ft 7in star has been nursing a knee injury since sticking four goals past Leeds United 11 days ago.

Whether Zigic is involved or not, Hill has warned that his defenders are coming under the microscope.

Only Ipswich Town and Peterborough United have conceded more goals and the Tykes have gone 13 games without keeping a clean sheet.

“If you look back at the last five seasons, one thing that has been consistent at this club is conceding a lot of goals,” he said. “We have to try and change that and it was my philosophy when I came to this football club.

“People keep asking about another goal scorer, saying ‘We need to replace Ricardo Vaz Te’ but we are scoring enough goals,” he added. “There is not an awful lot wrong with the structure of the team but individual mistakes have cost us.

“We have to change this mentality of it ‘being OK’ to concede goals,” he stressed. “It is not OK. There may be a point soon when I feel it is necessary to bring in a new defender.”

Both Scott Golbourne and Jay McEveley are contenders to start if Hill opts to make changes at the back following last weekend’s defeat at Watford.

The return of winger Jim O’Brien after six weeks on the sidelines is another possibility and the fit-again Scot will always be willing to work hard in both halves of the pitch.

“We all know how you build snowballs or a snowman when the snow comes!” said Hill. “It’s constantly making sure you are adding to it. You change the mentality and allow players the opportunity to play to show they are capable of keeping those clean sheets.”

Birmingham manager Chris Hughton and defender Curtis Davies scooped awards for both Championship manager and player of the month yesterday and the Blues are back in contention for automatic promotion.

“They are the form team of the Championship and Chris Hughton is a superb manager,” said Hill. “They are a massive rival for automaic promotion – and so they should be when you consider one of the players (Zigic) is being paid a King’s ransom in Premiership wages. It’s mad really.

“They have quality all over the pitch and great experience so it will be a difficult test,” he contin ued.

“But it’s a great opportunity and our confidence is still high. If we can make better decisions in the vital areas of the pitch we have a good opportunity and chance of beating Birmingham.”