Southampton 4 Birmingham City 3
Birmingham City blew their chance to go back to the top of the Championship table last night as their away run came to an end in an exhilarating seven-goal thriller on the South coast.
The only consolation of dropping their first points on the road in five matches was that Blues took part in one of the games of the season — a breath-taking affair almost from the first whistle. Manager Steve Bruce will have taken something from the way his side bounced back from a three-goal deficit inside the first 19 minutes to come close to snatching a point.
Bruce's men had started brightly and were looking a decent bet for away win No 6 when they were hit by those three bolts from the blue.
Gary McSheffrey had been just inches away from giving the visitors the lead from fully 30 yards when, just two minutes later, Kenwyne Jones went down the other end of the pitch and showed him how it should be done.
One quick shimmy to the left, and Jones earned himself the space to arrow in a ferocious left-foot effort that was too hot for Maik Taylor to handle. The Blues keeper got his fingertips to it, but could not prevent the Saints striker's shot heading into top right corner of the goal.
Three minutes later, Taylor was definitely at fault when Jones doubled his side's lead, heading home Jermaine Wright's left-wing cross. Only three more minutes elapsed before Jones turned provider when he headed on for Rudi Skacel to thump the ball home from 20 yards.
It was the sort of scoring blitz that brought back painful memories of last season's 7-0 defeat to Liverpool. Had Gzregorz Rasiak not headed a good chance wide, on a night when Bruce opted to pick an unchanged side and delay Matthew Upson's comeback, who knows how Blues would have stopped the rot.
Blues at least reversed the flow before the break, Sebastian Larsson firing a free kick on the stroke of half time into the side netting. But it was in the early stages of the second half that Blues perhaps looked at their most ragged.
Radhi Jaidi, already cautioned, conceded a free kick on the right edge of his box for a foul on Rasiak and young dead-ball specialist Gareth Bale curled a left-foot free-kick just past the post.
Then, in an extraordinary double escape, Jones, two yards out from the Blues line, actually headed the ball away from goal. And, when it was returned to him, his goal-bound flick was turned over the bar to safety by visiting skipper Martin Taylor.
But Blues have defiant qualities in this team and, spurred by the indefatigable McSheffrey, they tried hard to get back into the game.
It was McSheffrey who went close when his shot was deflected on to the bar for a corner. Then Blues struck the woodwork again within two minutes when McSheffrey played a superb ball through for Larsson inside the box, but the young Swede's effort came back off the post.
It was the sign of better things to come and it did not take much longer before Blues were actually on the scoresheet.
From McSheffrey's near-post corner, Jerome headed home from the edge of the six-yard box. When they added another within three minutes, there was real belief that the visitors might still snatch something.
Substitute Mehdi Nafti's shot was deflected into the path of Nicklas Bendtner on the edge of the box, and he drilled the ball home from 18 yards with ease. But Blues' hopes of pulling off the comeback of the season were ended when the arrival from the bench of DJ Campbell triggered a goal in a matter of seconds.
Sadly for the DJ, this time there were no more heroics in the manner of Saturday's late winner at Turf Moor. Instead, it was Saints substitute Wright-Phillips, who had entered the fray at the same time, who emulated Campbell's weekend effort by scoring with his first touch, turning home Bale's assist from 12 yards.
There was still time for Blues to pull another one back when Jaidi's header was diverted past his own keeper by Chris Baird, the inquest of which saw angry scenes as the defender traded blows with his own keeper Kelvin Davis.
Even then, Campbell could have grabbed a point but, although he got his header up and over the keeper, it also cleared the bar.
SOUTHAMPTON (4-4-2): Davis; Ostlund, Lundekvam, Baird, Bale; Surman (Viafara, 82), Wright, Pele, Skacel; Rasiak, Jones (Wright-Phillips, 77). Subs: Bialkowski (gk), Makin, Licka
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Martin Taylor, Jaidi, Sadler; Danns (Jerome 52), Muamba (Nafti, 59), Clemence, Larsson (Campbell, 77); Bendtner, McSheffrey. Subs: Doyle (gk), Upson, Campbell.
Referee: Iain Williamson (Berkshire)
Bookings: Saints — Lundevkam (foul), Skacel (ungentlemanly conduct); Blues — Jaidi, Muamba, Kelly, Jerome (all fouls)