Burnley 1 Birmingham City 2
Steve Bruce admitted DJ Campbell’s late winner for Birmingham City at Burnley was "inspired".
The former non-League hitman came off the bench to score with his first touch and it was enough to send the Blues joint-top of the Coca-Cola Championship.
"It was inspired!" said manager Bruce. "We’ve gone and pushed DJ up the top, but we didn’t really want to break up (Nicklas) Bendtner and (Gary) McSheffrey because I thought they were a threat all afternoon.
"We decided to try and win the game, but to do it after ten seconds when he comes on is just one of those things. Well done to DJ, because it’s been frustrating for him over the last month.
"He started the season really well, got a knock and didn’t get back into the team because of the way the team has been performing but fair play to him, I’m delighted for the kid."
It was Campbell’s first goal since the Carling Cup victory at Sheffield United last month. The #500,000 signing from Brentford last season limped off just before the hour at Bramall Lane, and has struggled to force his way back into Bruce’s thoughts since.
But he was back with a bang here, tapping home from close range just seven minutes from time in front of a delirious travelling support.
The goal was enough to maintain the Blues’ superb recent form, as they made it 19 points from a possible 21. It is a run that has catapulted them back into not only the promotion hunt, but the title reckoning.
Bruce’s side are one of three teams locked at the summit of the table, only denied top spot by Cardiff City and Preston North End’s superior goal difference. And it just shows that a month is a long time in football.
But they had to do it the hard way, as it was their Lancashire hosts who got off to the best possible start.
With just four minutes played, Stephen Foster’s pin-point cross from the right was met at the back post by the onrushing Chris McCann, who sidefooted past an exposed Maik Taylor.
Birmingham thought they had a good shout for a penalty when McSheffrey was brought down by Michael Duff after a lightning burst of speed, but referee Kevin Wright waved away the appeals.
Former Coventry man McSheffrey would prove to be a thorn in Burnley’s side all afternoon, and he was instrumental in his side’s equaliser on the quarter hour. However, they can also be indebted to a huge slice of good fortune.
McSheffrey’s superb turn on the right saw him burst into the box, before crossing into the danger area.
Duff’s clearance was hit straight at Jon Harley, and bounced directly into the path of a grateful Bendtner, who made no mistake from just two yards out.
At the other end, the lively Steve Jones cut in from the right, and exchanged passes with Gifton Noel-Williams before firing just wide of Taylor’s right-hand post.
But Birmingham missed a glorious chance to get their noses in front, and it was Neil Danns who was the guilty party. Bendtner again exposed Burnley down the right, and drove into the box before drawing Brian Jensen from his goal.
He pulled the ball back for Danns but with an open goal gaping, the former Colchester man somehow scuffed his shot wide of the target.
After the interval, Danns again had an effort that just flew wide of the angle before the home side had a penalty appeal of their own waved away, after Rahdi Jaidi seemed to climb all over the back of Noel-Williams.
Both sides pushed forward looking for a winner, but it was the introduction of Campbell eight minutes from time that proved the key to unlocking Burnley’s rearguard.
Within a minute of his arrival, Bendtner’s cross from the right of the area was fumbled by Jensen, and Campbell was on hand to blast home the loose ball from close range.
However, the home side could well have grabbed a share of the spoils late on. Harley’s left-wing cross was met by Andy Gray, but his turn and shot lacked the necessary power, allowing Stephen Clemence to make a superb goalline clearance.
Substitute Mehdi Nafti drilled a shot at Jensen in the dying stages, but the Blues had already done enough to bring all three points back to the Midlands.
Bruce added: "After a sloppy start, we had to show a bit of resilience.
"But I thought the two boys up front, Bendtner and McSheffrey, caused them all sorts of problems. We just missed that little cutting edge, that little bit of calmness, that little bit of what you need.
"We’re young, and that shows sometimes — we make the wrong options. But I thought we were always a threat, and that was the difference between the two teams."
BURNLEY(4-4-2): Jensen; Foster, Duff, Thomas, Harley; Jones, O’Connor, Hyde, McCann (Mahon, 86); Gray, Noel-Williams (Lafferty, 75). Subs: Coyne, McGreal, Elliott.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Martin Taylor, Jaidi, Sadler; Larsson (Campbell , 82), Clemence, Muamba (Nafti, 75), Danns; Bendtner, McSheffrey (Upson, 90). Subs: Doyle, Kilkenny.
Referee: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire).
Bookings: Burnley — Duff (foul). Birmingham — Bendtner (unsportsmanlike conduct), Nafti (foul).