Birmingham City 2 Crystal Palace 1: Bruce's new Blues beat boo-boys to top the table

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The Independent Online

Anyone wanting a demonstration of the frustrations of management should have been at St Andrews on Saturday. After a hectic summer following Birmingham's relegation from the Premiership, Steve Bruce must have wondered whether his new-look team would settle quickly enough. In just four games his side have driven their way to the top of the Championship, but the ride has been far from easy.

Although Bruce thought his team played their best football for two years in beating the division's early pace-setters, the manager had to deal with the increas-ingly vocal frustrations of his own supporters and an extraordinary tantrum from his captain.

Booed for taking off Nicklas Bendtner midway through the second half, Bruce then replaced Dam-ien Johnson with Mikael Forssell as he went in search of a winning goal. Bruce had handed the captaincy to Johnson, whose workmanlike qualities are not universally appreciated, and when his substitution was greeted by ironic jeers the midfielder threw his armband and shirt to the turf before running down the tunnel. Bruce will decide what action to take after meeting Johnson today.

"He's been a magnificent servant for this club and people should remember that," Bruce said. "But he has to deal with stick. I had 20,000 giving me stick when I took off Nicklas Bendtner."

It was Bruce's substitutions that set up the winning goal in injury time. Forssell fed David Dunn, who had been pushed forward and made a clever run to the byline before picking out Sebastian Larsson- another substitute - with a precision cross.

Although Bruce has lost big names like Emile Heskey and Jermaine Pennant, he appears to have recruited well. Bruno N'Gotty and Radhi Jaidi were solid in defence, while his two loan signings from Arsenal, Larsson and Bendtner, who had scored the first with a smart finish from Mehdi Nafti's astute through ball, both look capable of troubling Championship defences.

Nevertheless the result was harsh on Palace, who had played some good counter-attacking football. Although Jamie Scowcroft struggled to make an impact as a lone striker, Ben Watson and Mark Kennedy provided vision in midfield, while Tom Soares and Jobi McAnuff, whose deflected shot had put Peter Taylor's team in front, provided good support from the flanks. Carl Fletcher made important tackles, Leon Cort was a tower of strength in defence and Gabor Kiraly showed great agility in goal.

Taylor still wants to strengthen his squad - hoping to make "one or two" signings - and if he can inject pace into Palace's attack his team should fare well.

Goals: McAnuff (11) 0-1; Bendtner (23) 1-1; Larsson 90 (2-1).

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, N'Gotty, Sadler; Johnson (Forssell, 79), Dunn, Nafti (Larsson, 65), McSheffrey; Campbell, Bendtner (Danns, 73). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Tebily.

Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Kiraly; Butterfield (Lawrence, 66), Cort, Hudson, Granville; Soares, Watson (Freedman, 64), Fletcher, Kennedy, McAnuff; Scowcroft (Morrison, 85). Substitutes not used: Flinders (gk), Reich.

Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).

Booked: Birmingham Danns.

Man of the match: Cort.

Attendance: 20,223.

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