Birmingham City 2 Queen's Park Rangers 1: Bruce's men bury 'gipsy's curse' to cement lead
Wednesday 27 December 2006
Those who are convinced that a gipsy's curse on St Andrew's blighted Birmingham City for 100 years are doubtless believers in the existence of Santa Claus. Whatever the truth, the Championship leaders launched the stadium's second century with an 11th win in 13 matches, while it was also Queen's Park Rangers' sixth defeat in seven.
Cameron Jerome's sixth goal of the season, two minutes after he came on as a substitute, sent Birmingham eight points clear. Steve Bruce's side had started intent on maintaining a record of scoring three or more in the previous five games, yet lost their way after Matthew Upson's first-half opener.
Lee Cook fired a stunning equaliser for Rangers, who performed with a doggedness that should help them steer clear of the relegation zone. But this Birmingham side is capable of winning even when below par, and Gary McSheffrey combined with Nicklas Bendtner to set up Jerome for the decisive thrust.
Bruce did not attend the post-match press briefing because of family commitments, sending his coach, Eric Black. "You can't expect strikers to be scoring three and four every time," the Scot said. "We're still a long way from where we want to be - there's lots of games to be won or lost."
John Gregory, back in the city where he and Bruce were rivals for a month five years ago, was asked whether Birmingham had enough to return to the Premiership. "More than enough," he replied. "They shouldn't be in this division in the first place. They have the best players and the best team in it."
He added: "The directors here have been fantastic. They remained composed through a very difficult period. They were ninth at one stage, but they didn't panic. They supported the manager in a way all managers would love a board to conduct themselves. They were astute, bided their time and allowed him to turn the season around."
Birmingham's early superiority produced a 22nd-minute lead. McSheffrey's curling free-kick from the left found Upson towering above the Rangers defence to power his second goal in four games, since the defender returned from a serious injury.
Rangers levelled after 31 minutes. Paul Furlong fed Cook on the left angle of the penalty area. The much-coveted midfielder went left but turned back on to his right foot, unleashing a diagonal drive that tore into the far corner of the net.
Birmingham wrapped up the points in the 62nd minute. Bendtner slipped a fine through-pass to McSheffrey, who could have scored himself but selflessly supplied Jerome for the former Cardiff player's first goal at St Andrew's.
Gregory was not alone in detecting a hint of offside. However, the flag stayed down, prompting sceptics to wonder whether a curse really had been lifted.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi , Upson (Larsson, 89), Sadler; Johnson, Nafti, Clemence, McSheffrey; Campbell (Jerome, 60; Muamba, 90), Bendtner. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Danns.
Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Royce; Rehman, Stewart, Mancienne, Milanese; Smith, Bircham (Bailey, 59), Cook, Bignot; Blackstock (Jones, 81), Furlong. Substitutes not used: Cole (gk), Ward, Rowlands.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).
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