Birmingham City were 'second rate' against Albion, says Alex McLeish

Alex McLeish had a Nick Clegg look about him as he headed for Sunday's civic reception to celebrate Birmingham City's Carling Cup triumph last week.

Birmingham City were 'second rate' against Albion, says Alex McLeish Like the LibDems, the Blues had finally made their big breakthrough but at what cost.

Their party had been embarrassingly pooped by the neighbours from the Black Country, whose convincing win at St Andrew's dumped McLeish and company in the bottom three, in very real danger of relegation, and sheepish looks were the order of the day at the town hall bash.

West Bromwich Albion, in contrast are heading in the opposite direction, leapfrogging their local rivals after this first win under Roy Hodgson's restorative management and unbeaten in their past four league matches. Form and confidence is returning after evaporating towards the end of Roberto di Matteo's tenure, and both are going to be needed, with Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur among their next five opponents.

Birmingham, meanwhile, dare look no further than their trip on Wednesday to Everton where, if they play like this, they will sink even deeper into the mire. While condemning his players' efforts as "second rate", McLeish made the point that circumstances had forced him to change half the team who defeated Arsenal at Wembley.

The immensely influential Barry Ferguson was absent, injured, as was Martin Jiranek, one of the defensive heroes who spiked the Gunners. Craig Gardner failed a fitness test, Roger Johnson was hampered by a calf strain and the towering totem that is Nikola Zigic was on the bench but not fit enough to go on. Liam Ridgewell suffered a groin strain during the pre-match warm‑up and Seb Larsson was deemed to be in need of a rest.

All that said, Birmingham still had a familiar look about them, full of first‑team experience, and much more was expected from Curtis Davies, David Bentley and Obafemi Martins, all promoted and found wanting. As McLeish put it: "We were looking for the guys coming in to give us fresh inspiration but that just didn't materialise."

West Bromwich, impressively organised and disciplined, were the better team throughout and were rewarded with three nicely constructed and well‑taken goals.

Birmingham equalised for 1-1 with Jean Beausejour's first in the Premier League but were never likely to come up with three. They have scored fewest goals in the league (26 in 27 games) and the poverty of their attacking play is further emphasised by the fact that they have had fewest corners. Their joint leading scorers are Zigic and Gardner with five apiece, which is plainly not enough. Albion's Peter Odemwingie has nine, which is much more like it and one will often be sufficient, given the defensive security which is Hodgson's forte.

The would-be saviour said: "One hopes the confidence will improve after the last four results [three draws and a win]. I hope we've turned some sort of corner but we now face a very difficult programme and we have to accept that we're not going to go up and up.

"I'd like to think 42 points will be enough but who knows? Some years 35 is enough but I do believe that it's going to take more points this season than it has many times in the past."

Powered by article was written by Joe Lovejoy at St Andrew's, for The Guardian on Monday 7th March 2011 07.01 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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