Birmingham City cut loose at Cheltenham Town yesterday, rattling in three first-half goals on their way to victory.
Manager Alex McLeish was on a spying mission in the Basque region of Spain, where Sporting Gijon midfielder Michel was playing against Athletic Bilbao and host club Portugalete. But doubtless his assistants, Roy Aitken and Andy Watson, will have reported that this was a welcome victory considering the recent run of form - and lack of goals.
It took Blues just 45 seconds to get off the mark, through a powerful drive from the edge of the penalty area from Garry O’Connor after Keith Fahey latched onto a sloppy pass by Jack Durrant.
It was 2-0 in the 30th minute when Kevin Phillips split the defence and Sebastian Larsson rounded Barry Richardson. Barely sixty seconds later, Phillips crashed home on the half-volley after hesitation by Ryan Keen.
Blues fielded French midfielder Landry Matondo on trial and compatriot Albert Fataki, a striker, as a substitute and it was Fataki who iced the win with an impressive finish in the 80th minute.
With his back to goal, he held off and then turned two defenders before ramming in a low shot from an acute angle.
It was also a relief that there were no new injuries after the misfortune at Nottingham Forest 24 hours earlier. Martin Taylor was today due a scan on the injured ankle that ended his participation in the 2-1 defeat. Taylor fell awkwardly after seeing a powerful header stopped brilliantly by Lee Camp from a corner.
He was stretchered off with his right leg in a brace and McLeish said it was a relief that the damage was not as serious as first appeared. “He went over on it,” said the Scot. “It hasn’t helped. We’ve got one or two problems at the position now.”
Liam Ridgewell is a long-term casualty due to a broken leg, while Roger Johnson and Scott Dann have been gathering fitness after post-season operations. Dann missed the Cheltenham match due to a groin niggle and a similar complaint meant that Giovanny Espinoza was unable to make his planned debut although Lee Bowyer and Maik Taylor played.
Lee Carsley looked to have given Blues a draw at Forest with an 80th-minute volley, but Robert Earnshaw struck three minutes later.
Forest had taken the lead in the 42nd minute via David McGoldrick and McLeish said both goals were ‘soft’. “Forest’s first was a disappointment. We switched off at a throw-in,” he said. “We allowed Forest to get it back to the thrower, he whips it into the box and we get caught at the back post.”
Marcus Bent hobbled out of action and will have a scan on a hamstring pull.