McLeish hails Birmingham's delicious duo

Everton 1 Birmingham City 2
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The Independent Football

Bookmakers are never the most benevolent of folk but at the start of this season it is safe to assume that the odds on Birmingham City being not only Europa League contenders, but also a promising FA Cup side, were decidedly generous. Not any more.

Alex McLeish's side made it 15 games unbeaten against Everton as they continued to demonstrate that their current blend of stoicism and brilliance is as successful as it is intoxicating for their followers.

Against an Everton side that was unbeaten in six, Birmingham looked as compact, as organised and as difficult to break down as they have in virtually every other game this term. The Blues' League position of eighth is not a coincidence. Neither is their spot in the fifth round as they scored two fine goals here to underline that McLeish's men can do more than just work hard for 90 minutes. "I thought the players showed great composure and to go in at half-time 2-0 up was quite a feat," McLeish said.

"Both goals were absolutely delicious and the second in particular has to be a contender for goal of the month if not the season. We will lose a game one day – I can guarantee you that but I would back these boys to come back from the setback because I know the character and power we have in that dressing room."

They took an early lead through a Christian Benitez header and never appeared destined to lose that advantage despite Everton's second-half resurgence.

Benitez nodded a Keith Fahey cross past Tim Howard after just seven minutes. But if the first goal had looked attractive, it was little but the ugly sister compared to the Cinderella finish Barry Ferguson conjured up with five minutes of the first half remaining.

Having comfortably coped with Everton's narrow-minded, pump-it-forward approach for most of the half, Birmingham broke with devastating efficiency.

Fahey brought Sebastian Larsson into play on the right wing and although his cross looked poor, Ferguson dummied and stepped over the ball in a move which completely threw the Everton defence.

James McFadden managed to beautifully slot the ball back to Ferguson who then curled his effort past Howard as Everton stood and watched.

After the break, Everton did come back to life thanks to a fine Leon Osman effort from the edge of the box after 56 minutes but for all the urgings from the Gwladys Street End, an equaliser could not be found.

Louis Saha had two good chances as did Marouane Fellaini and although Mikel Arteta's second-half comeback after 11 months out with a cruciate problem offered Everton hope for the future, last year's runners-up left this year's competition with a whimper rather than a bang.

"We were so poor in the first half that it would have needed a very good second-half performance," David Moyes said. "We got that but it was not enough.

"I thought we had enough chances to get the draw but you have to give Birmingham credit. They have come to Everton and performed well and got a couple of goals and deserve to go through – there is no argument about that."

Attendance: 30,875

Referee: Howard Webb

Man of the match: Ferguson

Match rating: 8/10