Birmingham City 0 Norwich City 1
By Ian Clarkson
Steve Bruce will be feeling distinctly uneasy this morning after Birmingham City's stuttering form plumbed new depths.
Bruce was booed by sections of home supporters after a performance woefully short of quality and he admitted that this was one of the worst performances during his five-year tenure at St Andrew's.
The players left the field to a general air of indifference, which reflected the air of apathy that enveloped St Andrew's well before the full-time whistle was blown.
Jason Shackell's inaugural league goal was enough to give the visitors all three points but, in truth, the defeat could have been far heavier.
Norwich's profligacy in front of goal, allied to some excellent goalkeeping from Maik Taylor, kept the scoreline respectable but this was paltry fare from Blues.
"You have bad nights but this is one of the worst during my time here," Bruce lamented.
"It was shocking and we played with fear. However, I take the full responsibility as I picked the team, prepared them and I have no excuses.
"I can't defend what I've seen tonight, which was players who couldn't handle the situation.
"The expectation was always going to be difficult this season amongst supporters and rightly so.
"Players couldn't grasp the situation and there were experienced ones out there tonight.
"Supporters have paid a lot of money to watch that and I think I would hae been booing if I had paid to watch that.
"It certainly isn't a bed of roses at present but, however bad we were tonight, I know we have some good players in the future for this club."
But Bruce insisted he wasn't prepared to offer his resignation in the wake of a shambolic performance.
"It is not in my nature to walk away or quit but I speak to David Sullivan every day and I am sure I will speak to him tomorrow," he said.
Bearing in mind they were facing a side that were 19th in the Championship, without an away triumph this season and only three wins all term, the auguries are not good for Birmingham.
Whereas previous defeats at Leeds, Luton and Cardiff had contained plenty of attacking thrust, this was easily their worst performance of the campaign.
It is the manner of defeat, however, that will be of most concern to Bruce and his owners as Blues were devoid of ideas and looked bereft of confidence.
A swift return to the Premiership, which was predicted by co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan in pre-season is, on the evidence of this performance, light years away.
Birmingham started the match tentatively and Dickson Etuhu had two opportunities inside the first seven minutes but Taylor was equal to the task.
The tension was palpable and home supporters indulged by baiting Norwich substitute Dion Dublin because of his spat with Robbie Savage whilst wearing a Villa shirt.
At the halfway point of the first stanza, however, Blues finally woke and Gary McSheffrey burst past goalkeeper Paul Gallacher in the penalty area.
He cut the ball back to DJ Campbell but his effort was blocked by Adam Drury. This opportunity galvanised the hosts and David Dunn's free-kick left Gallacher scrambling across his line to palm the ball away to safety.
Nevertheless, Birmingham still had to be vigilant after Darren Huckerby breezed past Tebily and Taylor breathed a
huge sigh of relief when Carl Robinson's header flashed into the side netting.
Radhi Jaidi, Jerome and Campbell are frittered away difficult opportunites but that cut no ice with supporters, as the players left the field at half-time to a crescendo of jeers.
However, it was appreciably worse after the interval and Taylor was in action once again to deny Rob Earnshaw and Etuhu.
The unrest was gradually drifting into inertia as Bruce's side were treading water, Earnshaw wasting a golden chance nine minutes into the second half.
Huckerby's through ball sliced open the centre of Blues' defence but the former West Bromwich Albion striker shot straight at Taylor.
Birmingham's seemingly inexorable slide into mediocrity inched closer when Norwich took a deserved lead after 66 minutes.
A needless foul by Fabrice Muamba saw Huckerby's free-kick reach Shackell and under pressure from Mat Sadler, he guided the ball past Taylor, albeit somewhat fortuitously, with his head.
No one said the Championship was going to be easy for Blues this season but at present, negotiating it is like wading backwards through treacle.