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Warnock's Cardiff are on top of their game

Birmingham off the pace

Cardiff boss Neil Warnock
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The Cardiff City Stadium witnessed Wales's elimination from World Cup qualifying contention on Monday but many of those disgruntled home supporters could receive a welcome boost when Sky Bet Championship leaders Cardiff take on third-bottom Birmingham at St Andrew's.

Neil Warnock's side have set the pace for the majority of the season and look value odds-against favourites to post their eighth league win of the season.

There has been market support for Birmingham, who have had the best part of two weeks to get used to new manager Steve Cotterill, who was appointed the day before a shocking 6-1 defeat at Hull.

Cotterill restricted himself to a watching brief at the KCom Stadium and soon realised the size of the task he had signed up for.

Birmingham invested heavily in the hope of competing at the top of the table but they are in the relegation zone after nearly a quarter of the season and Cotterill's first priority is to get them to a safer position.

Cotterill has spoken positively about the squad's strength but having plenty of options could make it difficult for him to identify his preferred starting line-up.

Record-signing Jota is in contention to make just his third Birmingham appearance having shaken off a hamstring injury and attacker Che Adams is also available after missing a month with a similar injury.

However, Cotterill is reluctant to rush injured players back quickly at a busy stage of the season and his priority is to get a much better performance out of those who performed so poorly at Hull.

It shouldn't be difficult for Birmingham to show a degree of improvement but it will be tough for them to match the level Cardiff have been operating at on most weekends.

Cardiff were below par in their last match before the international break, drawing 0-0 at home to Derby, although that was understandable after the effort they had expended during a 3-1 success at home to Leeds four days earlier.

The 13-day break should have allowed many of Cardiff's players to recharge their batteries.

One of the exceptions could be midfielder Aron Gunnarsson, who took part in some raucous celebrations after captaining Iceland to World Cup qualification.

Fortunately for Warnock he has assembled a strong squad and has been able to maintain a consistent level of performance despite often rotating his team selections.

The spine of the side rarely changes with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, centre-backs Sean Morrison and Sol Bamba and centre-forward Kenneth Zohore having taken part in all 11 league games.

Zohore overcame a lean spell with two goals in the win over Leeds and there are alternative threats from pacy wingers Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Junior Hoilett, who have scored four and three goals respectively.

Warnock may have to fend off interest in some of his star players in January but for now Cardiff look a strong side who should stay at the top of the table for at least another week.

1pt 13-10 general

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Team news
Jota, Che Adams and Jason Lowe (all hamstring) are back in the squad but Emilio Nsue was being assessed following his return from playing for Equatorial Guinea. David Stockdale (arm) and Carl Jenkinson (shoulder) are out.

Aron Gunnarsson is expected to be involved despite starting both of Iceland's final two World Cup qualifiers. Defender Callum Paterson and goalkeeper Lee Camp are closing in on a return from injury but the game at Birmingham comes too soon.

Key stat
Birmingham have lost seven of their last nine matches.

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The 13-day break should have allowed many of Cardiff's players to recharge their batteries
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