Wednesday never looked like upsetting the odds at St. Andrews as their run of nine league games without a win extended into the FA Cup. Despite having a Carling Cup final next week to prepare for, McLeish resisted the urge to make wholesale changes to the team that went down 2-0 at home to Newcastle United in midweek.
That decision paid dividends, but the Scot will be relieved that his side did not over-exert themselves in their winning effort. Instead, his concern will rest with Alexander Hleb, who was forced off after just 26 minutes and will be a major doubt for Sunday’s game at Wembley against his former club.
Hleb’s loss would be a big blow for City. The Belarusian was especially integral to the Blues’ game plan here as he played big parts in the home side’s first two goals. It is therefore likely that McLeish will be eager to obtain a diagnosis on the status of the on-loan Barcelona player as soon as possible – Birmingham are a much weaker side without him, as seen by his absence in midweek.
Gary Megson’s side, without the suspended Giles Coke, were always going to be up against after suffering a dreadful run of league form that has seen them lose heavily to the likes of Tranmere Rovers, Rochdale, Leyton Orient and Exeter City – a far cry from when the Owls were dining at English football’s top table and a win for Birmingham would have been considered the upset.
Having not won a game in League One since December 11th last year, Wednesday were in trouble as early as the seventh minute, when Jean Beausejour converted Lee Bowyer’s cross, Hleb creating the chance with some neat work in midfield. Obafemi Martins added a second, his first for the club, 10 minutes later, before David Murphy put the tie out of reach early in the second half.
The fact that the score line remained at 2-0 for so long must be attributed to Birmingham easing off the gas almost immediately after Martins’ goal, but there was never any danger of a Wednesday fight back. The away side managed just three shots on target all game, and indeed, Megson will probably be relieved in the end to be out of the competition with no further damage. It will instead be left to the former West Bromwich Albion manager to salvage what is left of Wednesday’s ailing league season.
Birmingham fans, however, will be dreaming of a second trip to Wembley come the end of the season if the draw is kind to their side. Sunday’s showpiece event against Arsenal will provide the real acid test as to whether Alex McLeish’s men are the real deal, or merely pretenders to the FA Cup throne.