Saturday, 12 February 2011

Birmingham 1 - 0 Stoke

An injury-time goal from Nikola Zigic ensured a poor Stoke performance came to nought as Birmingham claimed back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time in 14 months.
Zigic nodded in a Cameron Jerome cross after Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic had spilled David Bentley's low shot.
Jermaine Pennant went close from a free-kick, but Stoke were lucky not to concede a second-half penalty.
Robert Huth handled a Bentley shot, but the offence went unnoticed.
On an afternoon when entertainment was at a premium, it was clear from the outset that anyone hoping for a repeat of last weekend's Premier League goal glut would have to look beyond St Andrew's.
Statistics and truth can be uneasy bedfellows when it comes to football, but one fact could not be ignored: neither side has a player with more than seven goals to his name.
Zigic's third league goal in as many games brought him level on that number with Birmingham's joint-top scorer, midfielder Craig Gardner, while Stoke's most prolific marksman is Robert Huth, a defender. It was never a likely recipe for a feast of entertaining football, and so it proved.
Yet that will not worry Alex McLeish a jot. The Birmingham manager had called on his players to capitalise on the feelgood factor surrounding the club just now - this result extended the club's unbeaten run to five matches in all competitions, while there is also the small matter of the club's forthcoming Carling Cup final appearance to look forward to - and, albeit belatedly, they responded.
It could have been different for Stoke, who weathered a good start by the hosts to create the lion's share of what few first-half chances came along.
But they, like Birmingham, have not been in the habit of picking up consecutive league wins - they last did so in mid-November - and it was Boxing Day when they last won away from the Potteries.
The initial signs that they might add to their modest tally of three away wins were not good, not least because Sebastian Larsson appeared intent on stamping the hosts' authority on proceedings.
With three minutes gone, the Sweden international swung in a cross from deep for Zigic, only for the big Serb to head over under pressure from Huth. He later narrowly failed to set up Roger Johnson from a free-kick, Begovic just about holding the defender's header.
Yet by the time Gardner stole the ball from Dean Whitehead in the centre circle with the half hour approaching, setting off on a run which culminated with a testing long-range shot - with debutant Obafemi Martins lurking, Begovic gathered at the second time of asking - Stoke looked the more credible contenders to break the deadlock.
As Larsson was the creative fulcrum for Birmingham, so the bustling Pennant provided the ammunition for the visitors.
In Kenwyne Jones and John Carew, the big Norway international on loan from Aston Villa, Pennant enjoyed the benefit of a pair of almost unmissable targets, and the former Liverpool man's cultured delivery from the right flank frequently made life uncomfortable for Ben Foster in the Birmingham goal.
But while the two strapping front men battered Foster, they could not better him.
In the absence of tangible reward for his efforts, Pennant almost took matters into his own hands, curling a low free-kick inches wide of Foster's left-hand upright.
However, first-half breakthroughs have not exactly been Stoke's forte of late - they remain the only team in England not to have scored in the opening 15 minutes of a match this season - and when Bentley curled an effort just shy of the post with half-time nearing, there was a suggestion of better things to come for the home side.
Sure enough, they began the second half exuding the same aura of intent with which they had started the first, and might have opened the scoring through Larsson, who gathered a sweeping crossfield ball from the back, picking his way through the Stoke defence before sending an angled effort wide.
The visitors were fortunate to survive a credible penalty claim when Huth blocked a Bentley effort with a raised arm. The German turned away, clutching his face, and referee Mark Halsey - who would surely have pointed to the spot had he enjoyed the benefit of a replay - waved play on.
A heated post-match inquest looked inevitable, but then came the match-winning contribution of Zigic, whose reputation for inconsistency will soon be in need of revision if he continues to plunder points like this.

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