The Tigers moved back into second place in the Championship and sent the crowd home happy by producing a long overdue glut of goals at the KC Stadium. It was a fine performance with some equally fine football on display but make no mistake, Birmingham were an awful side who offered little resistance. That's not to take anything away from City but is a gentle warning not to get carried away by this result. Unfortunately we don't have 11 games left against opposition this poor.
Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Chester, Bruce, Hobbs [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Meyler, Quinn, Koren [F] Boyd , Gedo.
George Boyd impressed at Bolton last week and was pretty much a given to start. Steve Bruce accommodated him by, bravely, leaving out Evans and dropping Koren into a very adventurous looking midfield. A week is a long time in football. 7 days ago, we were behind in 75 seconds. Today we led in 55 seconds. We'd barely strolled through the park in the glorious sunshine and taken our seats when Quinn fed Brady, who split the Birmingham defence from the left hand side and George Boyd ran through, drew the keeper and finished neatly. [1-0]. What a way to make your home debut? City continued to pile on the pressure with Elmohamady the main outlet early on. He was up against young Mitch Hancox and it wasn't a particularly fair contest. I know he's a complete thug but if anyone had done their homework on us, they'd have put Elmo up against Paul Robinson. Hancox tried to get tight to Elmo but he just ran past him. It was literally man against boy. Elmo's crosses caused problems for the visitors twice. The first one hitting Koren in the chest as he'd not anticipated it flying over Caldwell's head. The second was headed over by a stretching Gedo. It wasn't long before a second goal did arrive. David Meyler cut out an attack in midfield, as he did effectively and without fuss all afternoon, and lifted the ball over their defence. Steven Caldwell had a ten yard start on Gedo but ran like a donkey in treacle and our Egyptian bloodhound raced passed him and slotted past a helpless Butland [2-0].
A third looked inevitable and should have arrived long before it did. A lovely switch from Quinn found Elmo who took on a half volley early from 25 yards or so and the ball bounced in front of Butland and just wide of the far post. Robbie Brady then hit the bye-line and delivered a near post cross that initially evaded Gedo but rebounded into his face off a defender and forced a smart stop from Butland who reacted well to beat Boyd to the rebound. Quinn then showed them a clean pair of heels and put a ball across the 6-yard box that keeper and defender left to each other, Had Gedo not stopped, he'd have tapped into an empty net. For such a potent goal poacher, it was a rare big mistake. We were all over Birmingham. The movement of Boyd, Quinn and Koren had them baffled. They couldn't get close to Brady and Elmohamady. We pressurised them when we lost the ball and we dealt immaculately with their one dimensional plan which was to hit Zigic at every opportunity. Lee Clark's had a tough time at Birmingham with their financial troubles but he's hardly covering himself in glory regardless. He's still working with some good players. Curtis Davies, Chris Burke and Jack Butland all sought after. He's not putting the right team out. Aside from the left back issue and the hoofball, they've got no leadership or presence in midfield and Hayden Mullins and Gomis are on the bench. They've got a reasonable right-back in midfield. They've got two decent wingers on the bench and a kid in the team. Then there's no presence up front and Wes Thomas is left out. And they try to play two up front away against a side as good as us who play three in midfield. It was ludicrous.
That third goal eventually came just after the half hour. It was a touch harsh on Birmingham in that the pressure came from a free-kick awarded against Hancox when he'd clearly been pushed by Elmo after he anticipated whee the winger was going. The free-kick was cleared and returned to Brady on the right, he slid inside to Elmo and he in turn found Boyd in the box. Boyd initially lost control of the ball, then nicked it back off a defender and shot low to Butland's right. The keeper got a good touch on it but couldn't keep it out [3-0]. Can you remember a more impressive home debut? It wasn't just the brace, he moved intelligently and effortlessly again, was always open and moved the ball with similar style to those around him. He doens't look much like a footballer. He's got legs like cocktail sticks, his shirts too big and he has the hair of a 50's singer (female). But he is what the cool kids call "a baller". No idea what that means but I think it's good.
We led 3-0 at St. Andrews in November and "enjoyed" a tense second half because we fell asleep either side of half time but today we managed to stay in control for a bit longer and went into the break with the three goal advantage having suffered few scares. Stockdale produced a solid punch from an early corner and then left his line quickly to deny Burke after he broke free before the interval. Burke's touch was heavy but the keeper was alert which was to his credit after he'd spent the first half hour watching from afar.
City started the second half as they had the first and Quinn, Koren and Boyd hunted a mistake and freed Elmo whose cross was looped wide by Boyd. The mistake came from Paul Robinson, on for Caldwell in the 37th minute. Presumably because Caldwell had to rush off to Cleethorpes beach to do a shift giving rides on his back to little kids. Shortly after, it was [4-0]. Brady played a lovely one-two with Quinn just inside our half. Quinn's return ball was read by Spector but being so accurate and perfectly weighted, he couldn't do a thing about it. Brady raced forward, had the sense to realise the front pair had gone too early and were offside and slid a square ball to Koren instead. He had plenty of room to size up a shot which he hit low to Butland's right. It was a decent hit but hadn't the pace to beat a top keeper. It made it through though, Butland just helping it into the top of the net. With his erratic decision making and horrendous kicking, Butland looked anything but an international goalie. He did make a fine save in response to the goal though. Another fine Brady cross was headed down by Gedo and Butland acrobatically tipped it over the bar on it's way up.
David Meyler then left the field to a well deserved ovation, replaced by Tom Cairney. His last act was to hit a tremendous drive just wide after Elmo's cross was cleared to him. The substitution was the start of City taking a foot off the peddle. Birmingham were enjoying most of the possession as we obviously had on eye on the Palace game on Tuesday. We were treated to some great gallows humour from the travelling Brummies. "You're nothing special, we lose every week!" and "How shit must you be, you've only scored four?" they sang. It soon became five. Quinn, under pressure in midfield, turned and turned with theirs snapping at his heels. He found Elmo with a lovely ball slid down the right and he fizzed a cross in that Gedo, unmarked in the centre, couldn't fail to convert [5-0]. For a few seconds, Gedo looked too embarrassed to celebrate. Like any good goalscorer, he soon snapped out of it. Simpson then replaced Boyd. The only negative from the game came in the dying moments as Birmingham pulled a couple back. First Lovenkrands left Stockdale standing with a shot out of the blue, perhaps deflected [5-1] and then a hopeful ball into the box fell to Zigic and his lay-off was neatly curled into the bottom left corner by Burke [5-2]. We responded by sending on McShane for Elmo to sort things out. A guy near by said humourously "Think about Jay Simpson, everyone else is happy, Simpson's lost 2-0!".
Despite the late lapse, it was a really good day. Just the sort of clinical performance we've been wanting. It leaves us second with 11 games to go. A position I never considered for a second in the summer. It was a strong team performance from Hobbs marshalling Zigic all afternoon to the ultra-busy midfielders and the mobile and clinical front men. Picking a man of the match is hard but I'd go with Meyler, just ahead of Quinn.
We've got a really tough pair of games in the next week. Away to two sides in the top half, Palace who we haven't beaten since relegation and Burnley who've beaten us seven times in a row. If we come through them unscathed, we've then got a massive, massive chance. Our other four away games are all at lowly sides (Barnsley, Ipswich, Huddersfield and Wolves) and our rivals have to come to us (Cardiff, Middlesbrough and Watford). Throw in home games with Forest and Bristol City and it's a tasty fixture list. Last season after 35 games, Southampton, Reading and West Ham all had 66 points. We've got 65 which suggests a similar tally will be required at the end. Southampton went up in 2nd place with 88. I think 86 may well do it but it's certainly going to require a minimum of 85. That's at least 20 more points from a possible 33. It will take some doing but I've no doubt we're capable. We just need to avoid the 0 out of 6 that seems inevitable this week given our pathetic record at Turf Moor and our recent run against Palace.
The rewards are massive. The finish line is coming into view. It's going to be some climax to the season. If you've got a weak heart, you may want to look away now!