Birmingham City 3 Watford 2
Birmngham City have built a fearsome reputation this season on the back of the strikeforce at their disposal.
Kevin Phillips, Marcus Bent, Cameron Jerome, James McFadden, Garry O’Connor – names that are enough to have any Championship defender trembling at the knees when a fixture against the Birmingham is on the horizon.
However, despite the tasty selection of goal-scoring talent that manager Alex McLeish can call on, they have only clicked sporadically.
Phillips, as one would expect from the ageing Mr Reliable, has chalked up a steady stream of goals, Bent’s contribution has been less about scoring and more about assisting while Jerome has been wildly unpredictable all season.
That was until Saturday at home to Watford when, with McFadden and O’Connor sidelined with groin injuries, McLeish’s remaining trio of forwards collectively fired on all cylinders.
The three marksmen couldn’t have picked a better occasion to find their form concurrently. Watford proved to be a tricky customer, Birmingham’s defence frustratingly showed the odd lapse in concentration while, unbeknown to them at the time, this was an opportunity to half Wolverhampton Wanderers’ lead at the top of the Championship as their local rivals were about to lose in west London.
Weaker sides would have wilted when Watford’s Hungarian striker Hamas Priskin ignored very faint appeals of offside around him to stab home at the second time of asking, from Maik Taylor’s initial save, to hand the visitors a sixth minute lead.
Luckily Phillips, whose middle name must surely be ‘right-place, right-time’, ensured that the deflated feeling of going a goal down only lasted two minutes by getting on the end of Nicky Hunt’s cross from deep to send a looping header over Scott Loach in the Watford goal.
Then, within ten minutes, Bent made it look easy when he picked up the scraps from Quincy Owusu-Abeyie’s blocked shot to accurately fire a low, left-footed effort into the corner and make it 2-1.
McFadden is an undroppable talent but with Owusu-Abeyie on the left wing, in place of the Scotland international, Birmingham had Watford nervously back-peddling every time the pacey Dutch-born Ghanian launched a counter-attack.
Owusu-Abeyie’s wild cavalier-approach to football needs to be managed carefully but he is surely one of the most exciting talents playing in English football’s second tier.
Phillips had bagged his tenth of the season and he had further chances to make it 11, or even 12, before the first-half was up in what was in large parts an uneventful encounter.
There was fleeting moments for both sides after the break but Birmingham looked largely untroubled and a betting man wouldn’t have been a complete fool to have backed 2-1 as the remaining scoreline.
The somewhat risky introduction of Jerome in the 73rd minute was what gave this game the lift it needed.
Jerome has been an immensely frustrating figure on occasions when coming off the bench this season, he’s attracted moans and groans for his wild and wayward shooting from distance as well as his tendency to run into cul-de-sacs but in fairness to the Yorkshireman that is often when he is introduced to an unfamiliar position on the left wing.
On Saturday it was Jerome at his best, as he was against Wolves the weekend prior, and that surely has something to do with McLeish bringing him on as a
replacement for one of his front two for the second consecutive match. Jerome’s fresh-legs terrified the visitors and the warning signs were there for the Hornets when he outmuscled centre-back Adrian Mariappa and calmly slotted past Loach only to have the goal chalked off for a foul.
However in the 85th minute, Jerome had a second opportunity and one that he took wonderfully to edge Birmingham closer to victory.
The England Under-21 striker prowled the edge of the area with the ball at his feet before curling a tremendous effort into the far corner.
Two moments of madness threatened to ruin Birmingham’s hopes of a deserved victory and did damage to the fingernails of the nervous majority of the 18,174 in St Andrew’s.
The Blues failed to clear their box from a late Watford corner and midfielder Jenkins had the simple task of driving the ball home from close range.
Then in the fourth minute of allotted injury-time, the gloved-hand of Radhi Jaidi appeared to strike the ball on the edge of Birmingham’s area before being followed by the sound of Scott Mathieson’s whistle.
Watford thought they had a penalty, Birmingham simply didn’t know what to think but the referee’s only thought was to blow for full-time much to the amazement of the baffled visitors and their fans.
Scorers: Phillips 8, Bent 18, Jerome 85 - Blues; Priskin 7, Jenkins 89 - Watford.
Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Hunt, Jaidi, Martin Taylor, Queudrue (Parnaby 79), Larsson (Agustien 87), Carsley, Quashie, Owusu-Abeyie, Phillips, Bent (Jerome 73). Subs Not Used: Doyle, Nafti. Booked: Queudrue.
Watford: Loach, Doyley, Bromby, Mariappa, Sadler (Hoskins 79), Jenkins, Eustace (McAnuff 46), Bridcutt (O'Toole 68), Harley, Priskin, Smith. Subs Not Used: Lee, Robinson.
Ref: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire).