Something had to give when Birmingham City pitted a 13-match unbeaten run against Nottingham Forest's 18 games without defeat in last night's replay at sparsely populated Ice Station St Andrew's. Barry Ferguson's first goal for the home club – hailed as "vintage Barry" by manager Alex McLeish – ensured it was the proud record of the team lying second in the Championship.
With a fourth-round trip to last year's beaten finalists, Everton, awaiting the victors, the former Rangers and Scotland captain broke his duck at the 23rd attempt midway through the second half to redeem a humdrum display by the full-strength Premier League side. Forest, meanwhile, rested seven of the team that won at West Bromwich last Friday, yet had the better chances and might have stretched their 10-month undefeated away run to 17 matches had Nathan Tyson not fluffed their best opportunity with 11 minutes remaining. Billy Davies, their manager, was left "scratching his head" over the result.
For McLeish, the sight of Ferguson finishing with aplomb was a throwback to their days in tandem at Ibrox. "Barry scored goals galore, about 20 in all, when we won the treble," the Birmingham manager said. "He made a lot of forward runs, which he times well. He's had a modified role since coming here last summer, and Lee Bowyer's been getting the lion's share of the goals, but that was vintage Barry."
Birmingham, as the Scot conceded, were not at their best. "I have to say that Forest played well and they can count themselves unlucky to be out of the Cup – but we still won, which tells you about the resilience of the players. I picked the same team [that held Manchester United on Saturday] because I wanted to keep the momentum going."
Davies, who justifiably claimed Forest had "edged both games", said: "If I reflect on the two games, we had 20 chances to their 14 and eight on target to their seven, and their keeper [Joe Hart] was man of the match both times. He's been excellent, a real pain in the backside! But it shows that when you play a very disciplined side such as Birmingham, who are 1-0 specialists, you have to take your chances.
"But I am very proud of the way the people we've put out on the pitch tonight performed and it was a great experience for them."
Hart's latest heroics began in earnest in the 38th minute. When former Birmingham striker Dele Adebola's shot was blocked, the ball dropped nicely for David McGoldrick, only for the on-loan Manchester City keeper to parry at point-blank range. Another diving save, from a Tyson drive, underlined the threat posed by the visitors. Forest's ascendancy continued after the break. A header by Adebola flashed wide, as did a curling shot by Lewis McGugan, and when Gareth McCleary's cross found Tyson in regal isolation, Birmingham were relieved to see him kick fresh air.
While falling below the standards they have set since their unbeaten run started in October, Birmingham retained sufficient ruthlessness to punish Gareth McCleary's wayward clearance. The midfielder sliced the ball high into the air near Forest's 18-yard box, whereupon Ferguson seized possession. Breaking through a challenge, he played a one-two with Christian Benitez before beating Lee Camp with an assured left-footed finish.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart; Carr, R Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Bowyer (Fahey, 64), Ferguson, McFadden (D Johnson, 76); Jerome, Benitez (Phillips 68). Substitutes not used: Maik Taylor (gk), Martin Taylor, McSheffrey, Queudrue.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Camp; Perch, Morgan, Chambers, Cohen; McCleary (Anderson, 81), McGugan, Moussi (Gunter, 72), Tyson; Adebola, McGoldrick (Garner, 76). Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Majewski, Lynch, Moloney.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).Reuse content