Leicester City 2, Birmingham City 3
The colour of the strip changes, the years tick by but Kevin Phillips remains the same – goal poacher extraordinaire. Soon it will be impossible to find a football supporter in the Second City who does not eulogise about the veteran’s alchemic ability to turn scoring chances into footballing gold.
He needed just ten minutes to do so at Walkers Stadium last night. Introduced as a second-half substitute for James McFadden, the veteran nodded home from all of three yards and looked to have secured another pre-season victory for Alex McLeish’s men, albeit following a listless team performance.
It seemed Birmingham would be denied, however, as Levi Porter’s fizzing shot from outside the penalty area with just two minutes to play levelled the score at 2-2. The hosts thought they had done enough to avoid defeat but Phillps knew otherwise.
In the second minute of added time, the 35-year-old ambled on to Cameron Jerome’s through ball and without looking up angled a first-time shot across Paul Henderson and into the corner of the net. Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion fans will recognise the clinical streak that has already brought Phillips four pre-season goals.
In truth, though, Sebastian Larsson was Birmingham’s main, virtually only, source of inspiration until Phillips arrived. The visitors fashioned just four opportunities in the first three-quarters of the match and the Swede’s right foot played a significant part in each.
That said even he flitted in and out of proceedings in an inconsistent collective display that suggested either Birmingham have much to do before they begin Operation Square One at home to Sheffield United on Saturday week, or this was an occasion that failed to inspire some of their bigger names.
It certainly failed to catch the imagination of McFadden, who in his time has known the adulation of a nation, but last night did not stamp his undoubted quality on a workaday affair. Lee Carsley was someway short of his ripsnorting best and Darren Bent was given neither the room nor the possession to announce his arrival.
But then this is July, titles are not handed out for another ten months and as well as Leicester played they will feel nothing but admiration for the way Phillips dissected their defence. They will be thankful they will not meet so cruel a surgeon in League One.
For Phillips’ part it seems he is set to repeat the 24-goal tally that lifted Albion into the Premier League last term. A repeat of those heroics and he will be one of the few players to be lauded across every city divide.
It was Larsson who opened the scoring, however. Twenty-seven minutes in he turned a rebound from David Murphy’s shot into an unguarded goal, only to see that effort cancelled out by Matty Fryatt’s deliciously curled goal a few minutes later.
Phillips made his presence felt with a dozen minutes left, Porter looked to have settled the affair but the former England man was not to be deprived of the headlines.
Scorers: Larsson (27) 0-1; Fryatt (34) 1-1; Phillips (78) 1-2; Porter (88) 2-2; Phillips (90+2) 2-3.
LEICESTER CITY (4-4-2): Henderson; Gilbert, Hobbs (Morrison, 45), Tunchev, Mattock; Adams (Gradel, 45), Oakley, Kishishev (Wesolowski, 45), Dyer (Porter, 64); Howard (Campbell, 45), Fryatt (Chambers, 45). Substitutes: Logan, Hayles, Worley.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Doyle; Parnaby, Taylor (Jaidi 45), Ridgewell, Murphy; Larsson, Nafti, Carsley (Mutch 85), McSheffrey (O’Connor 67); Bent (Jerome 67), McFadden (Phillips 67). Substitutes: Krysiak, Kelly
Referee: Trevor Kettle (Berks).
Man of the match: Sebastian Larsson: Birmingham’s creative brain once again