Birmingham City 1 Aston Villa 2: Agbonlahor rises to challenge while Bruce fumes at referee's 'howlers'

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The Independent Football

Birmingham-born Gabriel Agbonlahor is the most popular man by some distance in one half of this city this morning after he single-handedly swung his home-town derby Villa's way in the space of three minutes yesterday.

In two moments of a match humming with desire if not much football, the 21-year-old did not just save his side from defeat with a brilliant goal-line clearance with the scores at 1-1 – he then hurled himself into a magnificent leap at the other end to head the winning goal.

The least popular man with the other half, undoubtedly, is Steve Bennett, the referee, who Birmingham feel missed two penalty incidents in the first half that might have tipped the balance in their favour.

The first occurred as Zat Knight, the Villa central defender, appeared to use a hand to block Cameron Jerome's attempt to flick the ball past him, just inside the penalty area.

Perhaps the Orpington official, believed he should give Knight the benefit of the doubt but he extended no such privilege later to Birmingham's Dutch winger, Daniel de Ridder, who appeared to be caught by Martin Laursen as he tried to sidestep him, only to be greeted, as he picked himself up from his tumble, with a yellow card for diving.

"You hope in a derby game that the officials will get things right but on this occasion Mr Bennett he has made two howlers," the Birmingham manager, Steve Bruce, said. "I could go and talk to him but what's the point?

"How he has missed the first one I don't know because we have all seen it. And in the second he really has to be convinced De Ridder dived to book him and yet the replays show he was caught. I'm not saying we would have definitely won the game but two penalties would have put us in the driving seat."

The consequence was that Villa reached half-time in front as a result of the Birmingham captain, the former Villa defender Liam Ridgewell, being caught in the 10th minute, when Johan Djourou, his fellow centre-back, failed to intercept a cross from Stiliyan Petrov, allowing the ball to bounce off him into the net.

By sending on Mikael Forssell for the second half and reverting to a two-man attack, Bruce was rewarded when the Finnish international rounded off Birmingham's best move with a 63rd-minute equaliser.

Jerome might then have put Birmingham in front and Ridgewell thought he had, six minutes from time, when a header from Sebastian Larsson's corner arrowed towards the bottom corner.

It was at that moment he learned it was to be someone else's derby. Guarding the line, Agbonlahor – ironically Ridgewell's best friend at Villa – stuck out a boot and steered the ball around the post. Moments later he was out jumping Ridgewell at the other end to meet Ashley Young's cross with the glancing header that was to give Villa their first away win in the Premier League since April and condemning Birmingham to a sixth defeat in seven.

Goals: Ridgewell og (10) 0-1; Forssell (62) 1-1; Agbonlahor (87) 1-2.

Birmingham City (4-1-4-1): M Taylor; Kelly, Djourou, Ridgewell, Schmitz; Nafti (Larsson, 73); De Ridder, Muamba, Palacios (Forssell, h-t), Kapo; Jerome (O'Connor, 75). Substitutes not used: Kingson (gk), McSheffrey.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Knight, Laursen, Bouma; Reo-Coker, Petrov, Barry, Young; Agbonlahor, Carew (Moore, 68). Substitutes not used: S Taylor (gk), Davies, Gardner, Maloney.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Bookings: Birmingham De Ridder, Muamba, Kelly; Aston Villa Barry.

Man of the match: Agbonlahor.

Attendance: 26,539.

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