BIRMINGHAM CITY 2 IPSWICH TOWN 1
Birmingham City made it three consecutive victories but the familiar face of Alex Bruce ensured it was another nervy finale for Alex McLeish.
The hosts, looking to keep the pressure on Championship leaders and Saturday’s opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers, enjoyed a comfortable first half and took a deserved two-goal lead into the break courtesy of goals from Liam Ridgewell and in-form Kevin Phillips.
However Ipswich Town gradually edged their way back into the encounter and centre-half Bruce, who had his father and former Birmingham manager Steve sitting in the stands, headed home from a corner in the 84th minute to raise the stress levels at St Andrew’s.
That was the last thing that McLeish needed after his side’s previous two hard-fought victories but once again Birmingham held out for all three points. They will now head into this weekend’s local derby at Molineux in buoyant mood after also seeing third-placed Reading drop two points at Cardiff City.
After getting his fingers burned with the ambitious 4-5-1 formation he fielded at Swansea City, McLeish reverted back to a familiar 4-4-2 line-up. Nigel Quashie returned the centre of midfield while Friday night’s hero Phillips partnered Marcus Bent up front.
The home side made an encouraging start. With barely 30 seconds on the clock, Larsson beat the offside trap to latch on to a Marcus Bent ball down the right flank before cutting inside to find Lee Carsley, who blazed his effort well over the bar.
Birmingham were looking lively and they had the ball in the net in the seventh minute albeit with the assistant referee’s flag raised. Larsson sprayed possession out to the left to find James McFadden, the Scotland international flicked it on for Phillips but as the evergreen striker knocked a close range effort past Ipswich goalkeeper Richard Wright, his celebrations were halted by the referee’s whistle for offside.
However the majority of the 15,689 St Andrew’s crowd were given reason to continue their celebrations just two minutes later as Ridgewell became the unlikeliest of goal-scorers. Bent’s blocked shot off the body of Ben Thatcher teed up nicely for the former Aston Villa centre-back who buried a solid volley well beyond the grasp of Wright.
A familiar name was added to the scoresheet in the 14th minute as Birmingham’s top-scorer added a ninth goal to his season’s tally. Larsson skipped over a vicious-looking challenge from Thatcher on the right before whipping over a wonderfully-delivered cross that landed squarely on the head of Phillips to double Birmingham’s lead.
The loss of their inspirational captain and midfield general Carsley in the 28th minute to injury hardly aided Birmingham’s cause but Ipswich were rarely troubling their hosts’ defence.
The first-half proved to be far too easy for the hosts, Ipswich hadn’t put them under the sort of pressure that the likes of Charlton Athletic and Swansea had done in previous fixtures.
A concern for Jim Magilton was the fact that Larsson, Phillips and Bent were playing with the freedom that every attacking footballer craves.
However, no doubt with Magilton’s angry words ringing in their ears, the visitors from Suffolk attempted to make amends instantly as inside 70 seconds
captain Richard Naylor’s header, from Owen Garven’s corner, flashed narrowly and dangerously wide of Maik Taylor’s post.
Left-back Franck Queudrue, who defensively wasn’t having his best game in a Birmingham shirt, almost followed Ridgewell’s lead in the 57th minute but the Frenchman’s strike from 12 yards thumped the crossbar.
Birmingham lost their second starting central midfielder in the 65th minute when Quashie hobbled off with a knock to his troublesome left ankle sustained from a crunching challenge moments earlier.
The Bruce family were represented in the stands and on the field and son Alex chose the exact moment that his dad had got up to leave the stadium to head home Darren Ambrose’s corner six mintues from the end to hand Ipswich faint hope of rescuing something from this affair.
Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Hunt, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Queudrue (Murphy 68), Larsson, Carsley (Nafti 27), Quashie (Agustien 65), McFadden, Phillips, Bent. Subs Not Used: Doyle, Jerome.
Goals: Ridgewell 9, Phillips 14.
Ipswich: Richard Wright, David Wright, Naylor, Bruce, Thatcher, Walters, Shumulikoski (Haynes 60), Garvan, Ambrose, Stead (Miller 61), Counago (Lisbie 72). Subs Not Used: Supple, Balkestein.
Ref: Rob Shoebridge (Derbyshire).