Two goals from Gary McSheffrey separated the teams in what Tom Ross would describe as a 'Ding Dong Derby' with a host of chances at either end plus a red card thrown in for good measure.
Maik Taylor returned in goal for Blues following Colin Doyle's token Carling Cup cameo at Bramall Lane on Tuesday night. For the third consecutive game, the back four was unchanged, whilst Fabrice Muamba's performance against Sheffield United meant that he retained his place in the heart of the midfield alongside the returning Stephen Clemence. Damien Johnson and Gary McSheffrey came back in on the flanks, whilst Nicklas Bendtner returned to the starting eleven to partner Cameron Jerome up front.
We've all seen Champions League games in this country (obviously, we're Blues fans...) where some strange UEFA ruling has meant that the first two rows of Old Trafford, Anfield or Highbury (back in the olden days before Arsenal had a nice new shiny ground) had to be kept free for whatever reason. Well, I can only assume that the Football League made a similar ruling for this game, meaning that Blues had to keep the first 8 rows of the Tilton Road end empty, together with about 5,000 other seats in the stadium. What other reason would there be for a crowd of only 21,000 in what is Blues' biggest home game of the season?
As you'd expect, the hobos from Smethwick got up early, had showers and shaves and put on their best clothes for their big day out in the big city and travelled in numbers. Reports suggest that there were sightings of at least 20 people to a horse-drawn cart on the Soho Road whilst others sat on the top of the Metro and hung out of the doors in a scene reminiscent of the Indian railway network as it rolled into Snow Hill. Their new hobo leader Tony Mowbray certainly plays the part, continuing to look as though he shops in the vagrant section of a Scope charity shop. When he did it at Hibs, I just assumed it was because there were no good shops in Scotland, but he's keeping it up south of the border. With his mop of hair, three-quarter length coat and decidedly gormless expression he patrolled his technical area like a tramp looking searching out a two litre bottle of White Lightning in Lidl.
Albion started the game confidently, and for the first 5 minutes or so Blues struggled to get hold of the ball, and when they did, they were rubbish. Blues did raise themselves slightly, and Bendtner and Jerome were both denied, before each of Diomansy Kamara, Jonathan Greening and Nathan Ellington missed chances for Albion.
On 20 minutes, Blues went 1-0 up. They were awarded a free-kick some 20 yards from goal in a position slightly to the right that was just perfect for the left foot of McSheffrey, who showed how perfect the position was, by curling in a fine free-kick. Whilst the free-kick was good, Albion 'keeper Pascal Zuberbuhler will have been disappointed with himself, as he was beaten on the side of the goal that he'd decided to protect, setting up his wall to guard the other side of the goal. He may have gone through an entire World Cup campaign without conceding a goal this summer (as did I, but he actually played 4 games in it) but he was poor here. He obviously didn't face anyone in the class of McSheffrey during the summer showpiece - he only played against teams including Thierry Henry, Andriy Shevchenko and Emmanuel Adebayor (ok, I'm stretching the point slightly with the last one). Shevchenko couldn't do it, but Shefchenko could.
The game continued as it had done prior to the goal before half-time, with Bendtner going close for Blues, whilst Kamara and Ellington again went close for Albion. The main other talking point of the first half was an Albion penalty appeal. Kamara looked to have been brought down by Martin Taylor, but the referee booked Kamara for diving. I have to say, when the incident happened and the referee put the whistle to his mouth, I immediately thought it was a penalty. Still, he was a lot closer than I was, and, in fairness to him, he was pretty sure in his mind that Kamara had been guilty of simulation, and so there you go.
The second half started in much the same fast-paced fashion that the first 45 minutes had been played at. Ellington hit the post for Albion, but Blues settled down a little better in the second half and began to boss the game a little more. A huge amount of credit must go to Clemence and Muamba in the midfield, who covered so much ground in closing people down and tackled anything. The foundation on which Blues' victory was built was those two in the middle of the park - it was reminiscent of a Steve Bruce Blues side of old. (They were ably assisted by their team-mates though - this was a real up and at 'em, close people down, chase everything performance by Blues.) Muamba himself went close as the second half progressed.
Kamara again missed a chance that was not only edged in gilt, but also had a full gilt centre too. He broke through and was one-on-one with Maik Taylor, but shot wide. This took Kamara's tally of 'glorious chances missed for Albion against Blues at St Andrews' to the 143 mark in the past two seasons, just shading the battle with his strike partner Ellington who reached the 132 mark in this game. In the first half Kamara was booked for simulating being fouled, and in the second half he continued to simulate being a striker. Six goals in his previous four games? Did anyone actually see these, or is it an urban myth? (Put your house on a Kamara hat-trick at The Hawthorns later this season now that I've written this.)
Albion brought on the mobile John Hartson in attempt to get a little more movement up front, but it actually backfired as all they did was lump long balls at him, and they were far less effective once they'd done this which played into Blues' hands.
Another slight hinderance for Albion was Paul Robinson getting himself sent off. It was the 'Good Honest Pro With Loads Of Energy And Aggression Who Epitomises Everything Their Team Is About' battle between Robinson and Damien Johnson, and the Blues captain came off worse courtesy of Robinson's forearm. To be fair, it was a challenge typical of the two players involved. I like Robinson, I like the cut of his jib, and Johnson's hardly a shrinking violet when it comes to throwing himself into a challenge. Robinson certainly caught Johnson late, and maybe it did merit a red card, but Johnson's dished it out enough times himself, and secretly I think we all enjoy seeing such challenges - though Johnson may disagree with me on this one. As Robinson trudged off, Johnson lay on the floor - some say it was a broken jaw whilst others say it was the shock of being involved in a red card incident and not having to head to the dressing room himself.
So, both the introduction of Hartson and the dismissal of Robinson meant Albion lost much of their impetus, and Blues began to look fairly dangerous on the break. McSheffrey should have done better with a header following a fine ball by substitute Seb Larsson as Blues cut through Albion at will late on. McSheffrey did make it 2-0 in stoppage time as he bustled his way through the defence before a superb little dinked chip past Zuberbuhler into the back of the net. He's set himself up nicely for his little homecoming in Coventry on Tuesday night now.
McSheffrey's second came at the end of a 20 minute spell up front alongside Bendtner in which the two linked up really well (Larsson played on the left). It certainly offers Blues another option, though the only slight doubt I'd have is that McSheffrey appears to be quite clearly our best option wide left, so if you put him up front, I'm not sure who'd come in on the left. I'm not convinced Larsson's the answer on that side of the pitch - though his versatility and Julian Gray's lack of appetite would certainly put the Swede in pole position.
After the desperare dark days that followed the Norwich City defeat, Steve Bruce has enjoyed a fine week with three very good victories - none more so than today - and suddenly there is a light shining again. Ok, it's still not a blinding beacon of a light, but it's a lot brighter than it was 8 days ago. As I said after the Derby game, the other thing to consider is that in spite of the whole Steve Bruce Circus that's going on, this was actually a pretty good result. I know Bruce had 'bigged up' Albion before the game, but in fairness, they'd been in fine form of late, and they do have a damn good squad at this level. Credit where it's due, beating them is no mean feat.
All of a sudden things are looking up a little more for Blues, and as the games continue to come thick and fast, a tricky couple of away games at Coventry and Plymouth - who continue to have a fine season - will really show if Blues have turned the corner now. It's certainly been the best week Blues have had for quite some time, and whilst everyone is willing to slate Steve Bruce for the bad times, you have to credit him for the past week. If Bruce getting all angry and defensive and turning on the fans was what it took for him to really rally his troops - and himself, to a degree - then I think everyone can accept that. Fair play to him.