Birmingham City 3 Plymouth Argyle 0
Just when it looked as though their afternoon could not get any better Birmingham City’s players skipped back into the dressing-room to learn their promotion rivals’ fallibilities had put them top of the league. A good day became great and quite possibly extremely significant.
When pre-season favourites, who boast the deepest pockets and one of the best squads, assume leadership of a division it is not unreasonable to assume the proverbial writing is appearing on the proverbial wall.
And so it should because on this form it will take a very fine team to beat Birmingham to the Championship title.
Matched with game opponents who, unusually for visitors to St Andrew’s, eschewed negativity and took proceedings to their hosts, Steve Bruce’s men ended up playing Plymouth off the park.
For 15 minutes they were not even the better side, it was the Devonians who committed men forward and warmed Maik Taylor’s fingertips, but as the quality of Birmingham’s attacks grew so too did the likelihood of a home win.
The irrepressible Nicklas Bendtner tormented Argyle with his ability to find space, control a football and pick out team-mates. If there is a better striker in the Championship he’s extremely publicity shy.
The Dane also contributed his tenth goal of the season and played a key part in the build up to the Gary McSheffrey strike that made it 3-0 just before half time. That effectively ended the match as a contest and allowed Birmingham to spend the entire second half toying with their prey.
That they were not able to put further clear blue water between themselves and the vanquished was down to Plymouth’s goalkeeper Luke McCormick and some lax finishing.
But that is being hypercritical. This was, on the whole, a happy occasion. Even the Birmingham supporters, who have had their fervour dampened by several seasons of getting by and one of failing to cope at all, found their spirits elevated.
For a quarter of an hour midway through the second period Birmingham, conducted by Bendtner, Sebastian Larsson and McSheffrey, tore Arygle to ribbons. Even Bruce was impressed.
"I was very, very pleased," the manager said. "Especially in the second half with some of the football we played and the entertainment we gave — we deserved to score more.
"There was a 15-minute spell when the buzz came back to the crowd which I haven’t detected for a long time."
Initially Birmingham were almost backward in coming forward — perhaps mindful that at Southampton they had flown out of the blocks and conceded three goals in four minutes.
Instead it was the Ian Holloway’s worker bees who buzzed around bristling with intent. Paul Wotton and David Norris — a pest to the home side throughout — had early shots blocked by City defenders.
Then in the 13th minute the former forced Taylor to fling himself to his left to turn away a 20-yard drive that looked destined for the corner of the net.
The Northern Ireland international did so and the next time he was called into action it was to protect a two-goal lead.
First, after 20 minutes, Larsson found Bendtner lurking between the Plymouth centre-backs and curled a delicious pass into his feet. The 18-year-old’s first touch was sublime, his second took the ball round McCormick and his third rolled it into an empty net — a moment of pure class.
With their confidence restored Blues piled on the pressure and doubled their lead on the half-hour.
McSheffrey popped a deep corner on to Stephen Clemence’s head and the captain powered a downward header towards goal.
It was cleared off the line by Tony Capaldi but only as far as Matthew Upson who marked his first start for eight months with a close-range finish.
Then with four minutes to go in the period Bendtner skated ahead of his marker and released Larsson down the sideline.
The young Swede showed admirable composure to pick out McSheffrey on the far side of the area and although the winger’s shot was deflected it still had enough on it to roll past McCormick. Birmingham were somehow three up.
If anything they played better after the restart for which they were not rewarded. Cameron Jerome continued to frustrate with wastefulness but Upson and his defensive partner Radhi Jaidi had headers kicked off the line and Bendtner and Larsson might have done better when well placed.
BIRMINGHAM (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Upson, Sadler; Larsson, Nafti, Clemence (Danns, 82), McSheffrey; Bendtner (Campbell, 77), Jerome. Subs: Doyle, Muamba, Martin Taylor.
PLYMOUTH (4-4-2): McCormick; Sawyer (Nalis, 61), Seip, Doumbe, Capaldi; Norris, Djordjic (Aljofree, 46), Wotton, Buzsaky (Samba, 46); Summerfield, Hayles. Subs: Larrieu, Gosling.
Referee: Richard Beeby (Northants).
Bookings: Plymouth — Hayles, Aljofree, Norris (all fouls)
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