Birmingham City 2 West Bromwich Albion 0
If anyone doubted that the fire was still burning deeply within Steve Bruce then he has laid his cards firmly on the table in the last ten days.
After reading what seemed like his own obituary in the wake of an abject defeat against Norwich on October 17 he has since come out with a stream of aggressive rhetoric that has been backed up by his players.
If Albion had converted all of their opportunities on Saturday this scoreline would have had a vastly different look but the fact they didn’t ensured Gary McSheffrey’s brace was sufficient.
It was a crestfallen Bruce that left St Andrew’s after the Norwich debacle, which may prove pivotal in the context of their campaign, but his mood has been increasingly bullish ever since.
First in line to feel the full force of his anger were his squad of players in a frank exchange of views before he turned his ire on supporters.
In fact, anyone and everyone who got in his way felt the sharp end of Bruce’s tongue as he tackled the whispering campaign that was threatening his job.
A win at Derby followed by a victory at Sheffield United was the perfect response before the acid test against in-form Albion. Fourteen goals and 12 points from four fixtures had catapulted Albion ahead of Blues but the latter’s best home performance this campaign temporarily answered their critics.
Bruce isn’t finished as Paul Robinson, the size of the crowd and the price they have to pay were the latest issues to infiltrate his nostrils. His bombast was present throughout the match. He kicked every ball on the touchline and scowled menacingly at anyone who dared to disagree with his views.
Bruce reached rock bottom after the Norwich defeat and has responded – along with his players – in exactly the right manner, which should curb some of the dissension among a pocket of disillusioned supporters.
Birmingham are back in the top six and only a point adrift of Albion where The Hawthorns bed is far rosier.
Despite this loss, the culling of Bryan Robson has appeased supporters and the arrival of Tony Mowbray has engendered optimism. While they will argue that referee Nigel Miller favoured the hosts with his decision there is no denying that Diomansy Kamara suffered a serious case of deja vu.
The livewire striker had snared six goals in his last four Championship outings but he drew a blank at St Andrew’s.
In the corresponding fixture last season Kamara spurned a host of gilt-edged opportunities as Albion dominated and had to settle for a draw. He was an enigma once again.
While Albion and Blues were culpable of wasting glorious goalscoring opportunities, Kamara was particularly negligent.
However. Albion’s bombast after the final whistle suggested that they are not overly concerned by this defeat and regard it is a blip.
Aesthetically they are more pleasing to the eye than Birmingham and it is hard to imagine either team finishing outside the top six this season.
However, Albion need to be careful that they don’t flatter to deceive as Birmingham undoubtedly ruffled their feathers in a tenacious opening 20 minutes.
Fabrice Muamba and Stephen Clemence were the catalysts for an energetic performance that was prevalent on a regular basis during the Robbie Savage era.
Bruce has used Muamba sparingly this season but it appears as though the Arsenal loanee has finally found his Championship feet. He was dogged and resilient throughout.
Clemence has been handed a raw deal by Bruce during the last 18 months and must have wondered whether his name was Colt Ceevers as he has been used as The Fall Guy so often.
His partnership with Savage, at its peak, was easily the best employed by Bruce during his five-year tenure yet he has often been overlooked during the last 18 months.
Clemence, however, isn’t the sort of player to rock the boat and has kept his own counsel while vegetating in the reserves. Yet Bruce called on him in his moment of need and shouldn’t be so quick to discard him on this occasion.
Ostensibly, this result could have gone either way and both teams will feel satisfied.
Birmingham proved that they are capable of competing with the front-runners and can concentrate on football matters now that Bruce has ridden out the storm.
Albion were undone by their profligacy in front of goal and Birmingham’s tenacity.
However, they looked far livelier with the pairing of Kamara and Nathan Ellington in attack as it suited their slick passing style.
John Hartson is still a threat but his arrival 20 minutes from time signalled a more direct approach from Albion yet they didn’t create a single opportunity.
That isn’t to decry Hartson’s ability it is just that Albion appear to have found a more successful formula with a pair of quick strikers.
By the time these two sides meet again in March the result could be more critical, as it is patently obvious they will be in the promotion shake-up come May.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Martin Taylor, Jaidi, Sadler; Johnson, Muamba (Danns, 88), Clemence (Nafti, 76), McSheffrey; Jerome (Larsson, 67), Bendtner. Subs: Doyle (gk), Campbell.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Zuberbuhler; Albrechtsen, Davies, Perry, Robinson; Gera, Greening, Quashie (Hartson, 67), Koumas; Ellington, Kamara. Subs: Hoult (gk), Watson, Chaplow, McShane.
Scorer: McSheffrey (19, 90)
Bookings: Albion; Gera — dissent, Kamara — diving.
Sending Off: Albion; Robinson — violent conduct
Referee: N Miller (Durham)