Birmingham City 2 Barnsley 0: Phillips fires home again as Quincy pulls strings

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The Independent Online

If Kevin Phillips is the tried and thoroughly trusted spearhead of Birmingham City's latest attempt to regain Premier League status, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie represents the thrilling extra cutting edge.

On his home debut, the former Arsenal player's display underlined the rich attacking armoury that is at Alex McLeish's disposal. The victory established the Blues in top spot via a maximum points haul from the season's opening fortnight.

Phillips did what Phillips generally does, adding a diving header, in the first 13 minutes of his first Championship start for the club, to the goals he had scored as a substitute against Sheffield United and Southampton on the previous two Saturdays.

The fireworks, though, came with the explosive pace and trickery of Owusu-Abeyie, who crossed well for Garry O'Connor's match-securing header on the stroke of half-time and who will test opponents much stronger than a Barnsley side who are propping up the table following three defeats out of three.

Birmingham's chairman, David Gold, has increased the pressure on the 22-year-old Dutch-Ghanaian by saying he is good for a dozen goals this season, while on loan from Spartak Moscow. In his programme notes, Gold also talked of Owusu-Abeyie as a "new Birmingham City star".

Not that the expectancy appears to weigh heavy. "It was all about experience in Moscow," said the left-winger. "I got the offer to go there, spoke to my agent and thought, 'Why not?' I thought I should go for a while, maybe play in the Champions League, and then come back. It was always my intention to return to England."

Quincy, as he is inevitably called at Birmingham, has emulated Sebastian Larsson, Nicklas Bendtner, Johan Djourou and Fabrice Muamba in exchanging life at Arsenal for that at St Andrew's.

Purely on the strength of his new side's potential up front, it is hard to visualise anything other than a promotion-challenging campaign. But there was still a casual air about Birmingham that allowed an initially defence-occupied Barnsley, nearly five months on from their FA Cup semi-final appearance at Wembley, to cause more discomfort than expected. Diego Leon struck the angle of post and crossbar from 25 yards at 1-0 and Brian Howard failed with a one-on-one early in the second half.

Though the first month of the season is not yet over, a crisis point has arrived for Barnsley.

"It is paramount that we get three points against Derby next weekend," said their manager, Simon Davey.

Goals: Phillips (13) 1-0; O'Connor (45) 2-0.

Birmingham City (4-3-3): Maik Taylor; Parnaby (Kelly, 36), Martin Taylor, Ridgewell, Murphy; Carsley, Larsson, Owusu-Abeye; McFadden, Phillips (McSheffrey, 72), O'Connor (Bent, h-t). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Mutch.

Barnsley (5-4-1): Steele; Hassell (Odejayi, h-t), Moore, Foster, Souza, El Haimour; Teale, Howard, Leon, Devaney (Mostto, 72); Macken. Substitutes not used: Letheren (gk), Atkinson, Kozluk.

Referee: R Beeby (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Birmingham Carsley; Barnsley Howard.

Man of the match: Owusu-Abeyie.

Attendance: 17,413.

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