There were times on Saturday that Fabrice Muamba seemed destined to cause some damage; to his opponents, himself, anyone around him really. The on-loan Arsenal midfielder's thunderous tackling - sometimes a little over-exuberant - and fearless attitude was one of few positives that the Birmingham manager, Steve Bruce, could have taken from a drab display from his promotion-seeking side. Thankfully, the only imprint that Muamba left was on Birmingham's supporters, who would have been pleased by a spirited performance from him.
Goals from Gary McSheffrey, the winger, and an injury-time effort from Neil Danns secured the points and Birmingham's fifth straight win. But Bruce would have been disappointed by a lacklustre display. Wayward passing was a feature of Birmingham's game that frustrated both the manager and the home support. Even Muamba was guilty of a few.
But the 18-year-old midfielder battled back from each misplaced pass, throwing himself wholeheartedly into challenges as he looked to retrieve the ball and create the next attack. "Patrick Vieira is my all-time idol and I would love to be as good as him," said Muamba, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but is the captain of the England Under-19 team. "I just want to keep working hard and do my best week in, week out."
The result suggested that Birmingham had cruised to this win against Andy Ritchie's Championship newcomers. In truth, playing against limited opposition, the home side struggled to generate creativity and any real forward momentum. Barnsley looked threatening only late on, following the introduction of Daniel Nardiello. Even then, Birmingham's sturdy looking back line stood firm, protected well by Muamba.
"It is hard to believe that he is only 18," said the defender Martin Taylor. "He is dedicated and brilliant at shielding the defence."
Arguably Birmingham's strongest striker line-up, Cameron Jerome, Bruce's £3m summer purchase from Cardiff City and Nicklas Bendtner, also on loan from the Emirates Stadium, looked ill at ease with each other. Jerome was taken off on 67 minutes with the winger Gary McSheffrey pushed into attack alongside Bendtner.
McSheffrey had earlier found the breakthrough on 35 minutes. Muamba won the ball, playing it into the path of Bendtner, who in turn supplied an unmarked McSheffrey. He calmly slotted the ball into the net.
Only in injury time did Birmingham score again. Sebastian Larsson, the third of Arsène Wenger's young stars on loan to Bruce, crossed from the right wing for Danns, who volleyed home from six yards.
Goals: McSheffrey (35) 1-0; Danns (90) 2-0.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Martin Taylor, Sadler; Larsson, Muamba, Clemence (Nafti, 88), McSheffrey (Campbell, 89); Jerome (Danns, 67), Bendtner. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Kilkenny.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Colgan: Austin, Reid, Kay, Heckingbottom; Devaney (Hayes, 69), Togwell, Howard, McIndoe; Richards (Nardiello, 62), Wright (Hassel,l 90). Substitutes not used: Wroe, Williams.
Referee: M Russell (Hertfordshire).
Booked: Birmingham Clemence, Austin.
Man of the match: Muamba.
Attendance: 19,344.Reuse content