• Manager 'would sacrifice Carling Cup if it meant staying up'
• McLeish will meet Blues' owner, Carson Yeung, in midweek
Alex McLeish poured out his anguish after Birmingham City's relegation, describing it as the low point of his career and suggesting that he would hand back the Carling Cup that his team won in February if it meant staying in the Premier League.
The manager fell foul of the season's treacherously fine margins because, following Craig Gardner's 79th minute equaliser at Tottenham Hotspur, his team were set to survive. But the pendulum swung again when Stephen Hunt scored for Wolves in the 87th minute against Blackburn Rovers, putting Birmingham into the bottom three on goals scored.
Roman Pavlyuchenko's injury-time winner for Tottenham, his second of the afternoon, which made the final scoreline 2-1, merely salted Birmingham's wounds. McLeish tried and failed to sign the Russia striker in January of last year.
"It's probably the worst moment of my career because I've been in charge of the team for the whole season, they are my lads, I picked them and I built the squad," McLeish said. "It's a low for me in my career but it's not fatal and I'll bounce back. I've got a good contract and, as far as I'm aware, I'll be honouring that."
When McLeish's team beat Arsenal to lift the Carling Cup, it was the club's first major piece of silverware since they won the League Cup in 1963. But their record since has been grisly – they have won only twice in the Premier League and they have finished the season with one point from an available 18. They become the first team since Norwich City in 1985 to win a trophy and be relegated from the top flight in the same season.
"The Carling Cup did [take it out of us]," McLeish said. "Maybe you could look at Arsenal as well in terms of their results between then and now, although I can't really put the blame on that. We've had a lot of injuries. Was it a result of the Carling Cup? I don't know. We got every ounce out of these players.
"It's such a fine line. If the goal that put us out of the Premier League [by Hunt] had gone the other way, it would have been the greatest season in Birmingham's history. If you are saying [the choice between] staying in the league but sacrificing the Carling Cup, then of course I would [sacrifice the cup]."
There was the suggestion that Birmingham's players, amid the tumult, did not realise the significance of Hunt's goal at Molineux but McLeish conveyed the information immediately. There were radios, Blackberries and even a laptop on the Birmingham bench to keep the players and staff up to speed with the events elsewhere. McLeish threw his centre-halves up and he said that he finished with four forwards on the pitch; his players, though, looked heavy-legged.
"I turned to Alex with a few minutes left," said the Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, "because I didn't understand what they were doing when they pushed [the centre-half] Roger Johnson up front. I said, 'Is a draw not enough?' and he said: 'No, Wolves have scored again, we need a win.'"
McLeish said: "It was a bit of a trance, really, what was going on. That is the only way to describe it, really. It is hard to tell you the emotions – you have got to go through it yourself."
He took over at Birmingham in November 2007 and the club were relegated. But he guided them back up at the first attempt and in 2009-10 he led them to ninth, their highest top-flight finish in 51 years.
"We've had success at the club," McLeish said. "I have heard people say that I am a lucky manager, after Obafemi Martins's winner in the Carling Cup final, but I don't feel lucky today. The problems we've had since, probably, the Carling Cup … Nikola Zigic hasn't played since. I have been relegated before but this feels worse because it's my team."
McLeish will meet the Birmingham owner, Carson Yeung, in midweek, to discuss the future.
"There will be a few players that will leave," McLeish said, "but to get back in the Premier League, we will need to keep the quality factor."