Mind power fuels rise of Birmingham

Everton 1 Birmingham City 2
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The Independent Football

Birmingham City did it again on Saturday. They confounded the pre-season doom-mongers, they showed they are a team whose whole is vastly greater than the sum of its parts and they again underlined what a dangerous, if unexpected, threat they are proving to be this term.

Alex McLeish has inspired his side to eighth in the Premier League and now also into the fifth round of the FA Cup courtesy of a 2-1 away victory over Everton that was entirely merited.

They have gone 15 matches unbeaten since they last lost against Arsenal on 17 October and that run has lifted spirits and confidence in McLeish's squad to an almost unprecedented degree. "Belief has a powerful impact in a dressing room and these players should realise the power they've now got," McLeish said. "Individually, you can have one or two mavericks in a team who can win you games, but they won't win you as many games as when you've got a dressing room as full of the power that I've got in mine."

McLeish can call upon the perfect combination of perspiration and inspiration from his players and both were on display as Birmingham scored two wonderfully worked first-half goals to leave a puzzlingly abject Everton with too much to do.

After just seven minutes, Christian Benitez headed a bouncing cross from Keith Fahey past Tim Howard after Barry Ferguson had found Fahey on the wing at the end of a 40 metre run that had seen him untouched by a single Everton tackle

It was an early and ominous example of the home side's ineptitude and they were simply awful in the first half, a clueless shambles whose only tactic was to punt the ball forward.

The hammer blow to Everton fell just before half-time when the teamwork seen in Benitez's goal was nothing compared with the brilliant manner in which Birmingham doubled their advantage.

Fahey brought Sebastian Larsson into play on the right wing and although his cross looked poor, Ferguson created something from nothing when he dummied and stepped over the ball, received a wonderful pass back from James McFadden and curled past Howard in the blink of an eye.

Leon Osman scored a 56th-minute goal for Everton which breathed some hope into their afternoon and Mikel Arteta also made a second-half showing after 11 months out with a knee injury but they proved to be minor fillips. Louis Saha and Marouane Fellaini missed four good chances between them towards the end but it was not to be, much to David Moyes' chagrin.

He said: "We are out of the cup and that's the lesson. The cup does that to you, you don't get a second chance to correct it. I think you have to give Birmingham a lot of credit. We were too poor in the first half to stand a chance."

Everton (4-5-1): Howard; Neville, Distin, Heitinga, Baines; Donovan (Arteta, 76), Pienaar, Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov (Osman, h-t), Cahill; Saha (Vaughan, 69). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Coleman, Duffy, Baxter

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart; Carr, R Johnson, Dann Ridgewell; Larsson, Bowyer, Ferguson, Fahey; McFadden (McSheffrey, 89), Benitez (Jervis, 79). Substitutes not used: Maik Taylor (gk), Madera, Queudrue, D Johnson, Vignal

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Everton Osman, Cahill.

Man of the match: Ferguson.

Attendance: 30,875.