Carling Cup: Wycombe Wanderers 0 Birmingham City 4
Birmingham City hit cruise control as they eased into the second round of the Carling Cup.
After seven Championship sides went out of the competition on Tuesday evening, Blues knew the pitfalls that could befall them at Adams Park but Alex McLeish’s side produced a professional display to outclass League Two Wycombe.
A first for the club from Mehdi Nafti and superb strikes from Sebastian Larsson and substitutes Cameron Jerome and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie made sure Blues enjoyed an untroubled and stress-free evening.
An away tie at Saturday’s opponents Southampton was scant reward for such a performance but McLeish was delighted to be in the hat for the next round.
“I think we produced a thoroughly professional performance,” McLeish said. “It is never easy when you play against a team that is organised and we knew it would be tough. You still have to break down a team who people think you should turn over, but it is never that easy.
“But we are in the hat, although the draw hasn’t been kind and we would have preferred a home draw. However, trips to places like Southampton are character building. We are capable of doing it and we have to have that belief.”
McLeish made three changes from the side that opened their Championship campaign with victory over Sheffield United on Saturday; Colin Doyle replacing Maik Taylor in goal and the strike partnership that finished the game, Kevin Phillips and Gary O’Connor, were given the opportunity to start, with 16-year-old Jordon Mutch and Owusu-Abeyie amongst the seven substitutes.
The first half was almost too easy for Blues with Wycombe, playing with only Scott McGleish alone in attack, posing little threat.
Blues were workmanlike and professional, and they took the lead after 14 minutes through the most unlikely of scorers. Tunisian midfielder Nafti is not known for his attacking prowess and he had not come close to scoring in 70 appearances for Blues.
In fact, the 29-year-old had only scored four goals in his whole career. However, he fired home a superb strike with his right foot from 20 yards out into the bottom corner after being teed up by O’Connor.
“That will probably be my first and last of the season,” he joked.
The only disruption to Blues was a head wound to centre back Martin Taylor which forced the giant defender off the field for stitches and reduced Blues to ten men for six and a half minutes but the hosts were unable to take advantage.
In fact it was Blues who looked the more likely to increase their lead with O’Connor heading wide from a Sebastian Larsson cross and then Gary McSheffrey curled a great free kick just wide. McSheffrey also forced Wanderers keeper Jamie Young to push his cross come shot over the bar, although the Blues winger would admit it wasn’t his intention.
McLeish was forced to make a change at half-time, bringing on transfer-listed Frenchman Franck Queudrue for David Murphy, who had pulled a groin muscle.
Three minutes after half time O’Connor was presented with a great chance to open his account for the season when he was picked out by Lee Carsley but his header was pushed away by Young.
The hosts had their first real effort on goal in the 54th minute when Gavin Grant’s teasing cross was volleyed over by Chris Zebroski and the Wanderers player had another great chance minutes later but Doyle was out quickly to save. From the corner, Zebroski headed over to complete a hat-trick of chances without reward. Zebroski was getting ever closer and Doyle produced a superb diving save to push his volley from another Grant cross around the post.
But the wind was taken out of Wanderers’ sales when O’Connor raced at the home defence and then deftly played in Larsson who produced a neat finish to give Blues some breathing space and Birmingham were now purring. Jerome made it 3-0 in the 73rd minute when he headed home a Stuart Parnaby cross after a delightful move involving O’Connor, who produced a tremendous, unselfish display.
Blues fans got their first chance to see new signing Quincy Owusu-Abeyie in action as a second half substitute and he did produce an encouraging run and shot which tested Young and with five minutes to go he wrapped up the win with another surging run rounded off by an exquisite left foot finish.
Goals: Nafti (14) 1-0; Larsson (64) 0-2; Jerome (73) 0-3; Owusu-Abeyie (86) 0-4.
WYCOMBE WANDERERS (4-5-1): Young; Crooks (Ashton 45); Woodman; Antwi; Johnson; Doherty (Rice 75); Mousinho; Spence; Grant; Zebroski; McGleish (Vieira 71). Subs not used: Shearer; Sutton; Duncan; Christon.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Doyle; Parnaby; Martin Taylor; Ridgewell; Murphy (Queudrue 45); Larsson; Carsley; Nafti; McSheffrey (Owusu-Abeyie 63); Phillips (Jerome 70); O’Connor. Subs not used: Maik Taylor; McFadden; Mutch; Bent.
Referee: Andy D’Urso.