Birmingham City’s Carling Cup heroics came back to haunt them at St. Andrews’ as they were swept aside by West Bromwich Albion in a Midlands derby that really was a game of two halves.
After an uninspiring first-half, three goals in the first 15 minutes after the break saw the Baggies take the lead, only to surrender it moments later before James Morrison seized the initiative to put the away side in front again. Paul Scharner then added to Birmingham’s woes to make it 3-1, leaving City perilously close to the relegation zone and handing West Brom only their third away win of the season.
The Blues are now just two points above the bottom three, and will no doubt look on at their near-neighbours with envy – West Brom have moved above Birmingham into 16th place as a result of their victory, one that Roy Hodgson will know is vital.
Albion went into the game having drawn four of their last five in the Premier League, and with fixtures against Arsenal, Liverpool, Sunderland, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in their near future. However, for the man who helped them to their last point, Carlos Vela, there was only a place on the bench. Alex McLeish decided to rest Wembley goal scorer Nikola Zigic, starting the man who netted the winner last Sunday against Arsenal, Obafemi Martins, instead.
However, Birmingham never really looked like adding to their Premier League tally of 25 goals, the lowest in the league, nor did their opponents look like breaking the deadlock. David Bentley was City’s main threat, constantly switching flanks to provide both Steven Reid and Nicky Shorey with problems. For West Brom, Jerome Thomas looked lively, but too often he was missing an end product.
The poor pitch condition did not help matters, with passes regularly going astray. Indeed, it looked like Birmingham could have done with the 6ft 7in Serbian Zigic to provide an aerial threat but an injury meant he was not risked. Barry Ferguson, too, was sorely missed, his usual box-to-box running and creativity lacking.
Hodgson had changes up his sleeve and the introduction of Peter Odemwingie at half-time paid immediate dividends, his hard work and dribbling skills helping open a gap for Youssuf Mulumbu to fire home and give the Baggies the lead. From that moment on, the game opened up, and Birmingham immediately equalised, Jean Beausejour netting his first goal in English football.
West Brom looked the more threatening of the two sides as they pushed forward with Odemwingie creating the problems for the home side. Morrison promptly popped up with a great strike to hand the initiative back to the Baggies, and Birmingham looked shell shocked.
Clearly mindful of their poor defensive record Hodgson replaced Jerome Thomas with Gonzalo Jara, killing the game. City looked a tired outfit as the tie went on, exemplified by the slack defending that allowed Scharner to nod in from what seemed an impossible angle following a short corner to make it 3-1.
Alex McLeish will have to rouse his troops if they are to stay in the Premier League, and the Birmingham players will have to leave their Carling Cup victory behind them. West Brom, however, are playing with confidence, and while their run-in is tough, they are nowhere near doomed yet.