Birmingham City 1 Stoke City 0
Where is the justice? Where is the pragmatism?
Birmingham City won a crucial match against difficult opponents, on a bad pitch, in cold conditions. They moved to second position in the Coca-Cola Championship and, if they win their two matches in hand, will go to the top of the table. It was their first league victory since December 26.
They have some of the best young players in the division. They play more attractive football than in the past. They seem likely to gain promotion back to the Premiership.
The reaction? The co-owner (David Sullivan) criticises those supporters who did not turn up.
Many hundreds of those who did turn up jeer the manager (Steve Bruce). The manager asks for some respect from those fans. The board of directors and the manager are apparently not working in unison.
There is something wrong at St Andrew's; something ugly. When all the talk should have been about a splendid goal yesterday by Gary McSheffrey that won this ghastly match, instead there are the negative effects of self-interest.
This negativity is so tangible that one could eat it with a set of chopsticks.
One might suggest that this is all a hangover from the relegation of last April or, perhaps, a hangover from the decision of the club last month to sell Matthew Upson to West Ham United.
Whatever, this hangover is not one that can be cured with a calorie-ridden fry-up. This hangover is like a disease, one that is eating away at the club and causing it to self-destruct.
When the players left the stadium afterwards, there should have been smiles of relief and smiles of joy. But the post-match expressions from those who had contributed most to this significant victory were strangely vacant.
None of the players wanted to see empty seats and yet, with the match shown live on satellite television and kicking off at 11.30am, only 15,854 people made the trip to watch the match in person.
Those who stayed away missed what is sure to be Birmingham's most significant victory since the team went to Derby County on October 21 and came away with all three points.
Birmingham deserved the victory, even it was laboured. Stoke are never the easiest of opponents against whom to play — actually, they are a nightmare — and so this was a case of the result being more important than the performance.
Stoke might feel as though they deserved a draw, especially given that Lee Martin broke clear on goal and was only denied by a fine save by Colin Doyle in the Birmingham goal. But Birmingham deserved to score more goals.
Cameron Jerome appeared to score in the first half but was adjudged by referee Jon Moss to be offside. Bruce claimed, with some justification, that the goal was acceptable and should have been allowed.
But while Birmingham's passing lacked accuracy and their enthusiasm was often misplaced, there was always the likelihood they had enough quality to win.
Bruce made changes just before the hour mark, replacing Stephen Clemence with Sebastian Larsson and Jerome with Rowan Vine.
"You don't know what you're doing," chanted some supporters. "You don't know what you're doing."
But Bruce obviously did know what he was doing. Whether by accident or design, it all fell into place and those same fans were soon cheering with ardour.
Larsson gave Birmingham the subtlety they had previously lacked and Stoke, who had hitherto seemed comfortable, found themselves stretched.
Suddenly, Nicklas Bendtner seemed liberated and it was from his cross to the far post in the 71st minute that McSheffrey scored with a fine header.
"I don't score too many with my head," McSheffrey said afterwards. "But the cross did half the work for me. It was superb."
It said much, however, that Birmingham's best player on this day was a defender. Martin Taylor is so comfortable and assured at this level that he deserves a regular place in the starting line-up, even though he might not have played yesterday had Upson still been around.
Taylor is, like Stephen Clemence, a balanced, stable individual; a hard-working professional; a player who makes the most of his talents and never tries to be clever.
Bruce likes these men and probably needs more of them but he did not seem to be in the mood for compliments. He was bristling afterwards, having suffered more abuse than he had bargained for and certainly more than he deserved.
He has endured a miserable start to the year. Postponements cost his team momentum. Until yesterday, bad results put question marks against their chances of promotion. Harmony at St Andrew's is lacking.
The board of directors took West Ham's money in exchange for Upson and now a significant number of supporters are questioning his judgment.
After this result, Bruce should have been happy last night but he was not. He was wondering why there is not more joy within a club that still controls its own destiny at the top of the Coca-Cola Championship.
Just when the debate should have been about Birmingham's promotion credentials, it was all about whether Bruce will want to be around when the 2007-08 season begins next August.
As he pointed out afterwards, he deserves more respect that he received here.
Scorer: McSheffrey (71).
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Doyle; N'Gotty, Jaidi, Martin Taylor, Sadler; Johnson, Muamba, Clemence (Larsson, 59), McSheffrey; Bendtner, Jerome (Vine, 59). Substitutes: Maik Taylor, Campbell, Danns.
STOKE CITY (4-4-2): Simonsen; Hoefkens, Fortune, Higginbotham, Griffin; Lawrence, Eustace, Matteo, Martin (Rooney, 74); Sidibe (Harper, 87), Fuller. Substitutes: Zakuani, Wilkinson, Dickinson.
Referee: J Moss (West Yorkshire)
Booking: Stoke — Griffin (foul).