Birmingham City 1 Southend United 3: Gower completes night of frustration for Birmingham

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The Independent Football

It was a humiliating defeat to Birmingham City last month that galvanised Southend into mounting a mini-revival and this time it will be Steve Bruce who will be hoping for a similar effect after a painful defeat last night.

Freddy Eastwood and Mark Gower's second-half strikes ensured Bruce, the Birmingham manager, is still waiting for a League win this year after a first Championship appearance in nearly a month. Bruce has been kicking his heels in frustration waiting for his side to kick-start their push for a return to the top flight but will have to suffer a few more days of misery after this insipid performance.

Birmingham had already lost their position at the top of the table to Derby County as a result of two League postponements and a rearranged FA Cup tie against Newcastle United but the gap is now six points.

Bruce said: "We were absolutely awful apart from the first 20 minutes and I'm not making any excuses. If we think we're going to swan away with it and be big-time Charlies, well we ain't. We've had a horrible night after starting so brightly and we didn't have one good performance."

It looked set to be a comfortable evening when Peter Clarke headed Rowan Vine's flick past Darryl Flahavan. But Birmingham were punished in the 22nd minute, as Southend equalised controversially. Maik Taylor's clearance rebounded off Matt Sadler into the path of Jamal Campbell-Ryce and he sidestepped the Birmingham goalkeeper with a clear handball to release Kevin Maher, who made no mistake from 10 yards.

It was not the defending of a team with promotion aspirations that allowed the visitors to sneak into the lead three minutes into the second half. Lee Bradbury headed Alan McCormack's cross into the path of Eastwood and he was given far too much room and planted a left-footed drive past Taylor. Southend secured victory when Gower swept the ball into the corner six minutes from time.

Tilson said: "To win at a place like Birmingham has got to give my players massive confidence to stay up because they have a squad that has cost millions. We'd only won one away game and this was going to be a big ask. I'd have been pleased with a point but a win is a great result and gives us a platform to build on for the rest of the season."

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; N'Gotty (Muamba, 59), Upson, Martin Taylor; Johnson, Nafti (Clemence, 59), Larsson (Campbell, 73), McSheffrey; Vine, Jerome. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Danns.

Southend United (4-4-2): Flahavan; Hunt, Hammell, Barrett, Clarke; Gower, Maher, Campbell-Ryce, McCormack (Francis, 79); Bradbury (Harrold, 88), Eastwood. Substitutes not used: Welch, Sodje, Hooper.

Referee: P Armstrong (Berkshire).