Time for Pablo to step up
He may have played for Atletico Madrid and started for his country at the 2006 World Cup - but Spanish international Pablo Ibanez will have to prove his quality all over again as Blues push for play-off glory.
Ibanez will start his first game in his favoured centre-back since the FA Cup replay with Chelsea in early March when he lines up next to Curtis Davies at The AMEX Stadium against Brighton on Saturday.
The Spaniard will be replacing the injured Steven Caldwell for the rest of the campaign after a groin tear prematurely ended the talismanic defender's maiden Blues campaign. For a defender of his pedigree, it is surprising that Pablo has made only 19 appearances in Blues' marathon season. 11 of those games have been starts, but only five in the league - his last coming in the home draw with Cardiff at the end of March.
However, if you're deemed good enough to partner Carles Puyol on the biggest stage of them all, then helping Blues' play-off push should not be a situation that fazes him. Manager Chris Hughton has stated that Ibanez has been unlucky not to play more this campaign but that is down to the solid partnership Caldwell and Davies have forged. Whilst Blues have begun to leak more goals as the campaign climaxes, a solid defence has been the basis of a lot of our success this season.
When Pablo has featured this season, often in an unfamiliar right-back position, he has looked susceptible to a mistake. When drafted in at right-back his lack of pace has often been exposed, but that should be less of a problem when he's back in the heart of the backline alongside the quick Davies - just look at Caldwell.
We should take confidence from the fact that the last time we appeared at Wembley we lined up with a supposed weakened defence too. Back in January 2011, Blues lost Scott Dann for the rest of the campaign after the centre-half required surgery on his hamstring injury. That forced then manager Alex McLeish to bring Martin Jiranek into the side and he played a major part in our successful Carling Cup campaign, including a colossal display in the final against Arsenal.
It would be unrealistic of the fans to expect Ibanez to slot seamlessly into the side after spending so much time on the bench. It is hard to judge a player to their full merits when they only make fleeting intermittent appearances and do not get the chance to build up their match fitness and get back to their sharp and alert selves.
Should Blues gain a point from their remaining games against Brighton and at home to Reading, they will be set to feature in the play-offs. Those extra, hopefully, three games should see Ibanez have ironed out any mistakes and whilst it will not be as prestigious as the World Cup in Germany, Pablo could make himself a Wembley hero - just as Jiranek did.