Birmingham City 3 Sheffield Wednesday 1
Birmingham City managed to override swirling wind and rain to produce their best performance of the season and an emphatic 3-1 victory over visitors Sheffield Wednesday, a result which maintains their standing as Coca-Cola Championship leaders.
Alex McLeish’s side turned in an impressive first half display to batter Brian Laws’ ailing Wednesday side with a brace of goals from Scottish striker Garry O’Connor and one from Kevin Phillips to cancel out an Etienne Esajas free-kick.
Off the field too, it would seem, there is an air of calm descending on St Andrew’s with chairman David Sullivan and defender Franck Queudrue finally burying their differences after a summer of discontent over the player’s dedication and performances which led to Sullivan publicly criticising his left-back.
The appearance of an apology in the chairman’s programme notes served to inspire the Frenchman to an incredible display which was rewarded when he set up Kevin Phillips for Birmingham’s third and final goal.
Blues had, until now, maintained their impressive league standing by grinding out results but this was a much more confident performance with players showing a real cockiness and swagger.
Their visitors however must fear for their future. Riddled with injuries and leaking goals at an alarming rate of knots, only bottom-placed Nottingham Forest have a worse defensive record.
But that should not detract from Birmingham’s performance – it was just a shame only 17,000 fans got to see their impressive display as recession bites harshly in this region.
Birmingham had looked hungry for a win from the off with Garry O’Connor looking to add to his late, late strike in the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace in midweek.
And the Scotsman did not have to wait long for the chance to show McLeish why he should continue to get the nod ahead of fellow countryman James McFadden.
McLeish had stuck with the side who beat Palace on Tuesday and they quickly set about exposing the Owls’ defensive frailties.
Cameron Jerome – playing just behind the front pairing of O’Connor and Phillips – cut inside his markers time and gain to threaten and put O’Connor through after just three minutes with the neatest of chips although the Scotsman just could not bring the ball down to his feet in time to capitalise.
But O’Connor made no mistake in the 11th minute after fine work from Sebastian Larsson. His through-ball found O’Connor who fired home from 12 yards with a powerful header into the bottom right hand corner of the goal.
It was his second goal in a week and his wild celebrations underlined how much it meant to him as he attempts to guide Blues back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
Just a minute later Wednesday were level however after Queudrue was judged to have fouled Etienne Esajas. The Dutchman dusted himself off to slam home the resulting free kick from 25 yards, with Birmingham’s Maik Taylor was unable to get anywhere near it.
But the Owls’ celebrations were also shortlived with O’Connor popping up again a minute later. A neat one-two with Kevin Phillips saw his first effort initially blocked by the Wednesday defence but, as the ball rebounded to him, he fired it back in with his left foot – his third goal now in five days and sixth of the season in all competitions.
Jimmy Smith squandered a chance to equalise for the visitors when he skewed the ball high into the stands and then Phillips found his left-footed shot from the edge of the area by Sheffield keeper Lee Grant as Brian Laws’ side tried to tighten up defensively.
Phillips has shown at every club he has played for – and there have been a few in this region alone – that he always likes to make his own contribution and how he was denied by Grant in the 16th minute is anyone’s guess after getting on th end of a long punt downfield from Larsson.
Larsson himself then won a free kick after a challenge by Steve Watson who was left with a head wound but the Swede’s shot flew just over the bar.
In the end Blues’ third and final goal came on 38 minutes from who else but Phillips who ran onto an inch-perfect Queudrue pass to fire home over the head of keeper Grant into the top left hand corner of the net.
Although there were no more goals in the second half, Blues continued to play with confidence – winning tackles and showing strength and determination to ensure the Owls had no way back.
The dismissal of Wednesday midfielder Jimmy Smith in the 68th minute for an elbow on Stuart Parnaby in the end ensured a frustrating day for the visitors.
Birmingham fans meanwhile were now leading the singing with chants of “We are top of the league.”
Manager Alex McLeish was equally happy at the final whistle particularly with his strikers. He said: “We have five top strikers at this club and I told them at the start of the season that there was going to be great competition. Now we have great competition and great camaraderie which is the spirit we need to succeed.”
Goal-hero Garry O’Connor said: “I am glad to keep my form and keep a run in the team. I have to be on my toes with the strikers we have at this club.”
Scorers: O' Connor (11,15 ) Phillips (38). Esajas (13).
Blues: (4-3-3) Taylor, Parnaby, Taylor, Ridgewell, Queudrue, Larsson (Nafti,75 ) Carsley, Agustien, Jerome (McFadden, 66), O'Connor, Phillips (Bent, 82)
Subs not used: Doyle, Quashie.
Wednesday: (4-5-1) Grant, Buxton, Wood, Spurr, Esajas, Watson, Smith, McAllister, Johnson (Small, 45) Clarke (Burton, 86)
Subs not used: O'Donnell, jeffers,, Simek.
Referee: P Taylor (Herts).
Bookings: Larsson (dissent,) Smith (foul), Buxton (foul ) McFadden (foul)
Sendings off: Smith (foul Parnaby, 68).