Birmingham City 2 Barnsley 0
After Birmingham City recorded their third consecutive victory over Barnsley at St Andrew’s to take a two-point lead at the top of the Championship table, it would be easy for many to think that promotion was a forgone conclusion.
The fact that Alex McLeish’s players have yet to get fully into their stride adds weight to the belief that Blues can live up to their billing as favourites for the title.
Blues comfortably saw off a Barnsley side which has now lost its first four games of the season but they did so without looking totally convincing. It was almost as if McLeish’s men were overconfident and McLeish said he was determined to guard against such complacency.
“Expectation goes hand in hand with winning,” McLeish said. “We know that winning again will enhance the training ground atmosphere and the confidence. It gives us an entitlement to be confident but we have to guard against conceit and complacency.
“It was very satisfying to get the three points. We knew the pressure was one us to do that on our own ground and we managed to keep up the momentum. I am delighted for the players because they passed the test and there was pressure on them to get the job done.”
There may be pressure on Blues but it is something they are not going to shy away from and McLeish took the brave step of fielding an incredibly attack-minded side.
As well as Garry O’Connor and Kevin Phillips in attack, he littered his midfield with forward-thinking players. Sebastian Larsson, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie and James McFadden are certainly more effective going forward than back-tracking, which gave the visitors some hope of getting in amongst the home side’s back line.
However, Barnsley simply couldn’t contain Blues’s attacking intent, with McFadden showing glimpses of his wonderful skill in the first half and Quincy carried that on in the second period with some delightful touches that had the Tilton Road stand singing his name. For all their wonderful guile, Blues over-complicated things at times and struggled to find an end product. The two goals came from a slightly more direct approach.
Phillips, who was making his first start of the league campaign, scored his third goal in as many games in the 13th minute when he dived full length to head home Stuart Parnaby’s superb cross after excellent work from McFadden.
Then, just before half time and just minutes after he had signalled to the bench that he could not carry on, O’Connor rose at the back post to head home Quincy’s cross, which had been misjudged by former West Bromwich Albion keeper Luke Steele.
Barnsley had their moments as well, most notably when Diego Leon struck the corner of the bar and post with a vicious right foot strike from 25 yards out five minutes before the break, and in the second half Tykes skipper Brian Howard broke through buy Maik Taylor saved superbly with his legs.
However, it was mostly Blues who threatened to add to their tally when a curling effort from McFadden sailed inches wide. And eight minutes from the end Steele was forced to produce a finger-tip save to push away McFadden’s left-footed half volley – and repeat the feat to deny substitute Gary McSheffrey.
In the finale analysis this was a comfortable win for Blues but there was a sense that McLeish’s men missed a great opportunity to send a clear statement to the rest of the Championship – that Birmingham may be reluctant competitors in this division but they mean business.
Putting Barnsley to the sword would have achieved that goal but surely when Blues do finally fulfil their potential another team will be on the end of a drubbing.
“I can’t ask anymore than that in terms of points but I still think we can play even better,” McLeish said. “The players will be looking for perfection themselves, as I am.
“I think we deserve credit for having a very positive line-up. The game was very open as a result. The players deserve credit for going about it the right way.”
A Birmingham side packed with internationals and players of Premier League experience should be formidable in this division and the biggest threat to Blues’ promotion campaign may not come from a rival team, but from complacency.
Goals: Phillips (13), O’Connor (45).
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor: Parnaby (Kelly, 36); Martin Taylor; Ridgewell; Murphy; McFadden; Carsley; Larsson; Quincy; O’Connor (Bent, 45); Phillips (McSheffrey, 72). Substitutes: Doyle; Mutch.
BARNSLEY (5-4-1): Steele; Hassell (Odejayi, 45); Moore; Souza; Macken; Howard; Teale; Foster; Leon; Devaney (Mostto, 72); El Haimour. Substitutes: Letheren; Atkinson; Kozluk.
Referee: Richard Beeby (Northants).
Bookings: Blues – Carsley (dissent); Barnsley – Howard (foul).