Birmingham City 2 Barnsley 0: Muamba provides Blues' grit

Birmingham grind out victory over strugglers in stuttering display
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The Independent Online

Victories continue to come Birmingham's way in the League. It became five in a row last night as they won this instantly forgettable Championship encounter. But how they struggled for the points. Against opponents that possessed little threat, Birmingham looked devoid of ideas and inspiration.

Supporters will have been wondering if defeat against Liverpool, in the Carling Cup in midweek, would cause them to lose momentum. What they needed was a performance of style. Against one of the division's struggling clubs, a convincing win was obligatory.

Barnsley had recorded just one win in nine games, coming last week, against their Yorkshire rivals Leeds United. It lifted them out of the relegation zone. Their manager, Andy Ritchie, would no doubt have wanted another display of the character that saw them clinch their fourth victory - albeit in a campaign that has seen them struggle in the heady world of Championship football following their rise from League One last season.

With less than a minute gone it was clear that Birmingham would take the game to their opponents. The winger Gary McSheffrey, one of four changes made by their manager, Steve Bruce, ran at the Barnsley defence before playing a clever through ball into the path of Nicklas Bendtner. The striker, on loan from Arsenal, rounded Nick Colgan in the Barnsley goal but ran out of space.

As the half wore on Birmingham seemed to adopt a cautious approach. Not that the threat of Barnsley's counter-attacks warranted it. A wayward ball from Fabrice Muamba drew moans of despair from the home supporters. Frustration was all too evident. Bruce shuffled uneasily in his technical area. The bright start from his side had been forgotten and there was cause for optimism for the visitors.

But on 35 minutes, Birmingham were ahead. Muamba threaded a ball into the path of Bendtner, who pulled it back for the waiting McSheffrey. The winger calmly struck it low past Colgan from 10 yards.

None the less, Birmingham struggled to find the right gear at the beginning of the second half. Barnsley's spirit notwithstanding, entertainment was scarce. Misplaced passes dominated Birmingham's play.

The athletic young midfield workhorse Muamba, another one of Arsène Wenger's young players loaned to the Midlands club, crashed into a challenge on 54 minutes, winning the ball from Martin Devaney. McSheffrey, free on the flank seized the ball and tried to float a pass into the path of Cameron Jerome, who had peeled off in anticipation. The chipped pass from McSheffrey, however, failed to clear the first man. Bruce was furious.

He took off the ineffective Jerome, pushing McSheffrey up alongside Bendtner. But still Birmingham struggled to impose themselves. The substitute Daniel Nardiello almost caught out the home side with a shot from the edge of the penalty area on 73 minutes, but Maik Taylor was well behind it in the Birmingham goal.

Birmingham sealed the points two minutes into injury time as Sebastian Larsson crossed for the substitute Neil Danns, who volleyed home from six yards.

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