Alex McLeish ponders price of success as Birmingham suffer hangover

Alex McLeish was worried about an "After the Lord Mayor's Show" reaction and Birmingham's performance was certainly reminiscent of the stuff left behind when the horses make their exit.

Alex McLeish ponders price of success as Birmingham suffer hangover Just six days after the proudest day in the Blues' history, when they overcame Arsenal 2-1 in the Carling Cup final, McLeish's team sank deeper into relegation trouble with this deserved home defeat by one of their main rivals in the dogfight for Premier League survival.

Birmingham have two games in hand, but, playing like this, they will count for nothing and their manager made his feelings known in the dressing room. He told his players they had been "second-rate" and had fallen well below the standard he expected from them.

West Brom improved their prospects of staying up by scoring three times in a second-half purple patch that brought Roy Hodgson his first win as their manager, the goals coming from Youssouf Mulumbu, James Morrison and Paul Scharner. They are now unbeaten in their past four league matches, but Hodgson was the first to admit they needed maximum points here, with Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham among their next five opponents.

McLeish made five changes to his Wembley line-up, the most significant of which saw Curtis Davies given his debut in central defence and Barry Ferguson, who played in the final with a broken rib, given a rest. For Davies, it was a start he will want to forget and Ferguson's control was sorely missed in midfield. Elsewhere, David Bentley, cup-tied last weekend, returned in place of Sebastian Larsson, to negligible effect, and Obafemi Martins, who scored the winner against Arsenal, was rewarded with promotion from the bench, again doing very little to justify his selection.

The first half made amnesia seem welcome and was notable only for two goal attempts by Cameron Jerome that had all the accuracy expected from a striker with three goals in 24 league appearances. To the relief of all present, not to mention a TV audience who must have been pining for the test card, the desired improvement was forthcoming in the second half, when both teams scored within two minutes of the resumption.

Albion broke the stalemate when Ben Foster's mishit clearance embarrassed his centre-halves, allowing Mulumbu to exchange passes with Peter Odemwingie before scoring from 12 yards out. Albion were still in celebratory mode when Jean Beausejour equalised, turning in Lee Bowyer's cross for his first goal in the Premier League.

It was Albion, however, who were hungriest and they regained the lead through Morrison, who stepped around Davies on the edge of the area and scored with a rising drive. They were tantalisingly close to making the game safe midway through the second half, when Chris Brunt rattled a post from distance, but eventually did so after 72 minutes, when Brunt's corner was played short to Morrison, whose cross was squeezed in by Scharner at the far post.

McLeish thought his players had suffered a "Wembley hangover" and wondered whether the FA Cup tie at home to Bolton on Saturday ought to take second place to the relegation scrap in his team's priorities. "There's a decision to be made every year," he said. "Is it better to be knocked out of the cups early? The FA Cup could be a burden, too, but how do you tell your players not to try?"

Hodgson, naturally much happier, said: "This was a major bridge to cross and I hope the players' confidence will improve as a result."


KEVIN CUMMINS, Observer reader The game was a bit of a non-event in the first half – and in the second half our defending was just dreadful. It was partially a bit of a hangover from the cup final, but we didn't create enough. A lot of players underperformed and when you lack the experience of someone like Ferguson, it shows. But if more of our players had Stephen Carr's attitude we'd have been all right. He was our best attacking outlet at the end, which shouldn't be the case. It's a question now of picking ourselves up for Everton – the league is the more important competition. Now we have one trophy, we can do without the FA Cup.

The fan's player ratings Foster 6; Carr 7, Davies 5, Johnson 6, Ridgewell 6 (Murphy 79 4); Beausejour 6 (Phillips 66 5) Bowyer 4, Fahey 5, Bentley 4; Martins 5, Jerome 6

TERRY WILLS, It was the right time to play the Blues, but it was a well-earned victory because we were more composed in defence, more creative in midfield and more dangerous going forward. What was really pleasing was our work rate and everyone had a reasonable game. If we had played like that for most of the season, we wouldn't be where we are in the table. Hodgson's thinking is getting through to the players; they are biding their time more before attacking. It's a nice little double over City - we beat them 3-1 at home too. Nicky Shorey did very well in defence; tackled and distributed the ball well. It was a good day.

The fan's player ratings Carson 6; Reid 6, Méïté 6, Olsson 7, Shorey 7; Scharner 6, Mulumbu 6; Brunt 6, Morrison 7 (Tamas 77 5) Thomas 6 (Jara 66 5), Fortune 5 (Odemwingie h-t 5)

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Powered by article was written by Joe Lovejoy at St Andrew's, for The Observer on Saturday 5th March 2011 15.02 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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