Carling Cup - Third Round
Sheffield United 2 Birmingham City 4
Birmingham City progressed to the last 16 of the Carling Cup after winning a thrilling third-round tie last night.
Goals by Dudley 'DJ' Campbell, Nicklas Bendtner, Cameron Jerome and Sebastian Larsson saw Blues home against Premiership opposition who replied through Ade Akinbiyi and Nick Montgomery.
It provides Birmingham with their second away win inside four days and proved there is plenty of life remaining in their campaign. While Sheffield United were under strength it should not detract from the level of their performance and Steve Bruce, the manager, was once again lauded by supporters at the final whistle.
Bruce rang the changes for this Carling Cup fixture and made seven changes to the side that had garnered a vital Championship victory at Derby last Saturday.
His Sheffield United counterpart Neil Warnock nailed his colours firmly to the mast before their Premiership fixture with Chelsea and fielded an entirely new team to that which succumbed to Everton last Saturday.
The general apathy surrounding this match was reflected in the vast swathes of empty red seats in all corners of Bramall Lane.
Nevertheless, for the likes of Neil Danns and Sebastian Larsson, this afforded them an opportunity to stake a claim in what they perceive to be their rightful position.
Danns was finally restored to a central midifeld berth while Arsenal loanee Larsson started in his preferred right-wing role. They started in businesslike fashion with Danns warming former Birmingham keeper Ian Bennett's hands inside the first minute at the culmination of a slick passing move.
It was the visitors who were in the ascendancy and Stephen Kelly's low cross was palmed out to Campbell by Bennett but he was crowded out.
The hosts responded and Paul Ifill extended Colin Doyle but Jerome spurned a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock on the quarter-hour.
Campbell collided with Chris Morgan and the Blades defence stopped dead in their tracks to leave Jerome bearing down on goal but a dreadful first touch resulted in him running
the ball through to a relieved Bennett. Blues' profligacy was to prove costly but not before Doyle’s breathtaking save to deny Nicky Law's free kick that appeared destined for the top corner. It was rendered irrelevant 60 seconds later, though, when Akinbiyi's cultured finish left Birmingham trailing.
Danny Webber's low cross from Birmingham's left was met by the former Wolves striker and his lob from an acute angle sailed over Doyle's head.
That was the cue for Sheffield United supporters to chide their former manager with cruel chants of: "That's why you'll get the sack."
This tie was far from finished, however, and Bruce should have been gloating ten minutes before the end of the first half.
Campbell dispossessed the laborious Craig Short and was clean through on goal but chose to hit a wayward pass to Jerome.
The teenage striker retrieved the situation and forced Bennett into a fine save but the angle was far more acute than necessary.
Campbell tried to atone for his error with an excellent low drive but Bennett was once again equal to the task. Birmingham, however, were slicing through the hosts’ defence with regularity and received just reward four minutes before half time.
It arrived in incongruous circumstances as Chris Morgan hacked a clearance against Campbell for no apparent reason and the ball looped over the hapless Bennett from 20 yards.
While the goal was fortuitous it was no more than Birmingham deserved and left their travelling band of supporters jubilant.
They could have been even more ecstatic ten minutes into the second half after another defensive blunder presented Cambpell with a clear opportunity to double his tally for the evening.
Julian Gray took advantage of another embarrassing collision in the hosts’ defence and fed Campbell whose shot was diverted on to the post by Bennett before being scrambled clear.
Campbell had to limp off in the aftermath and was replaced by Bendtner. The talismanic Dane gave Birmingham the lead as he latched on to more defensive slackness.
Martin Taylor's enormous header cleared the hosts’ back four, who stood and watched as Jerome ran back from an offside position.
Bendtner, however, took full advantage as he latched on to the header and easily rounded Bennett before slotting the ball into an unguarded net.
Jerome sealed victory after latching on to a shocking Craig Short back-pass and finishing cooly although there was a late scare when Nick Montgomery's long-range strike whistled past Doyle.
Larsson settled any nerves deep into injury time when he converted Neil Kilkenny's cross from close range.
SHEFFIELD UNITED (4-4-2): Bennett; Sommeil, Short, Morgan, Unsworth; Ifill, Law, Montgomery, Kabba; Webber, Akinbiyi (Nade, 67). Subs: Kozluk, Lucketti, Geary, Tie.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Doyle; Kelly, Martin Taylor, Jaidi, Sadler; Larsson, Danns, Muamba, Gray; Campbell (Bendtner, 58), Jerome (Kilkenny, 82). Subs: Maik Taylor (gk), Painter, McSheffrey.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).
Bookings: Sheffield United — Kabba (foul); Blues — Jaidi, Gray (fouls).