Birmingham 3 Plymouth 0: Bendtner bedazzles Plymouth

Bruce's revivalists climb confidently to the summit
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The Independent Online

Nicklas Bendtner continues to wow St Andrew's and the Coca-Cola Championship. The 18-year-old Dane expertly scored the 10th goal of his loan spell from Arsenal to help Birmingham City to their biggest victory of the season and to the top of the table.

With Matthew Upson also on target in his first start since February, it was a highly pleasing seventh win in nine League games for Steve Bruce's side, whose three goals in 20 first-half minutes mirrored the way they themselves had suddenly caved in at Southampton in midweek.

Gary McSheffrey, as impressive as anyone, took his season's tally to eight but it was hard not to feel sympathy for Plymouth Argyle, who were the sprightlier for 20 minutes and still going strong in a lost cause late on. Only once in nine trips had they been beaten and they threatened constantly as Paul Wotton and David Norris brought good saves from Maik Taylor, as well as having shots blocked desperately by defenders.

The tide turned quickly with an exquisite one-on-one finish from Bendtner. From Sebastian Larsson's through ball, he controlled in an instant and went round Luke McCormick to slide in from a tight angle. Upson got lucky with a tap-in when Tony Capaldi's clearance off the line from a Stephen Clemence header fell for him, then McSheffrey fired home via a deflection off Marcel Seip after Larsson's pull-back.

As the near misses piled up, Bendtner twice failed with only McCormick to beat, saw a left-foot shot deflected inches wide and set up a clear chance that Larsson dragged off target. Radhi Jaidi also went close with a header Capaldi blocked on the line while McSheffrey threatened with two powerful efforts.

"Some of the football and entertainment in the second half deserved more goals," Bruce said. "We always looked a threat going forward. Going top is nice, although we haven't done anything yet and there are still five months to go."

The victory was the perfect sales pitch for Birmingham on the day their president David Sullivan questioned in the programme whether they could rightly be called a big club while attendances tumbled.

This opening of a two-point lead at the summit comes at the start of a run of four home matches in six and the Plymouth manager Ian Holloway detects ominous signs for the chasing pack, although his substitute Cherno Samba brought a double save from Taylor near the end.

"Steve didn't look too happy after 15 minutes but, by half-time, he had a big smile on his face," the manager said of Bruce. "We've had a bit of a spanking and I'm glad we don't have to play Birmingham again."

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