DONCASTER ROVERS 0 BIRMINGHAM CITY 2
Alex McLeish’s promotion plan of action appears to have finally come together.
This has been a long, arduous Championship campaign for Birmingham City’s manager but Saturday’s victory in Doncaster was a clear sign that jigsaw pieces are starting to fall into place.
McLeish’s January acquisitions looked to have settled into his way of thinking, his squad’s injury crisis is beginning to quell and he witnessed one of his strikers score again.
As for the off-the-pitch and public embarrassment caused by Karren Brady’s column in recent weeks, any further barbs at McLeish would have been overshadowed in Saturday’s edition by the managing director’s glaring error as to who exactly the Doncaster Rovers’ manager is. For the record it is Sean O’Driscoll not Dave Penney, he can be found in the dugout at Darlington.
McLeish even had the relief of finally seeing his side make the most of the opportunity to pounce on a promotion rival’s slip-up elsewhere as Reading’s defeat at home to Ipswich Town allowed Birmingham to move seven points clear of the Berkshire club in third, although they still have two games in hand.
McLeish opted to revert to a 4-5-1 formation that has produced contrasting results this season. At Bristol City it was a success, at Blackpool it was a disaster. Fortunately at Doncaster the tactic, which saw wideman Hameur Bouazza drifting in to support lone frontman Cameron Jerome, was the former.
The change in approach stifled Doncaster’s usual fluid style of play. McLeish’s pursuit of the Doncaster centre-half Matthews Mills surely aided the Scotsman’s pre-match preparation as he had made many a scouting trip to see Saturday’s opposition in action.
Lee Bowyer, who McLeish later revealed had played through the pain barrier caused by his abductor muscle injury, brought back a driving energy to midfield and perfectly complimented his solid central partner Lee Carsley. Maik Taylor was a reliable pair of hands as ever and the veteran is sure to top the list of nominees for the club’s players’ player of the season award while Stephen Carr, who is expected to extend his stay at St Andrew’s shortly, continues to be a revelation at right-back. Birmingham’s two goal-scorers also deserved to be singled out for special praise. Jerome grabbed a goal that he thoroughly deserved after a series of impressive performances in recent weeks while Bouazza was a lively and creative outlet.
Special mention should also go to referee Peter Walton who, on a blustery day and a weathered surface, allowed play to flow in front of the partisan 11,482 crowd. Although on closer inspection, Mr Walton may have had cause to have reached into his pocket and produced a card for Doncaster’s James Hayter towards the closing stages after the second-half substitute had smashed his forearm into Liam Ridgewell’s throat.
Despite some early unnecessary foul play from Radhi Jaidi on the edge of the Birmingham box and a seventh-minute free-kick from Martin Woods that forced a superb save from Taylor, it didn’t take long for the visitors to begin to look comfortable.
From the moment Jerome headed home his side’s opener, and his 50th career goal, it looked unlikely that Doncaster were going to continue their fine form of late.
Sebastian Larsson’s high ball into the area seemed to hang in the air for an eternity. In the meantime, Jerome had managed to impressively-shrug off the challenge of James Chambers and Brian Stock around him before sending a looping header beyond the reach of goalkeeper Neil Sullivan.
Jerome continued to be a threat and while he was removed with nausea in the 65th minute, perhaps the Doncaster defence were suffering from the same ill due to his menacing forward runs.
While Bouazza’s 41st-minute goal came gift-wrapped, the Algeria international deserves credit for his clinical finish. Bouazza scampered on to Chambers’ soft back-pass to his goalkeeper and the winger brilliantly curved an effort with the outside of his left boot beyond the advancing Sullivan from a narrow angle.
A Doncaster goal on the stroke of half-time may have made a game of it but Carr’s experience ensured that he was in the right place at the right time on Birmingham’s goal-line to clear Mills’ header.
The home side were momentarily lifted by the interval and substitute Mark Wilson forced Taylor into another decent low save in the 49th minute.
The result, however, was never in doubt and the sight of Garry O’Connor as a 65th-minute substitute gave McLeish extra reason to be cheerful from his second trip to South Yorkshire in a week.
Scorers: Jerome (19), Bouazza (41).
DONCASTER ROVERS (4-4-2): Sullivan; Chambers, Mills, Hird (Price, 76), Roberts; Spicer, Wellens (Hayter, h/t), Stock (Wilson, h/t), Woods; Coppinger, Heffernan. Substitutes: Lockwood, Shiels.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-5-1): Maik Taylor; Carr, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Queudrue (De la Cruz, 71); Larsson, Carsley, Bowyer, Fahey; Bouazza (Sinclair, 77), Jerome (O’Connor, 65). Substitutes: Doyle, Costly.
Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).