Birmingham City 2 Torquay United 0: Birmingham grab second chance to finally underline gulf in class

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The Independent Online

Birmingham City ultimately made the most last night of the second chance that even their manager admitted they were lucky to have. Torquay United, within a whisker of a giant-killing 11 days ago, held out for another hour, often in surprising comfort.

Eventually, though, Jiri Jarosik and Mikael Forssell struck to underline the 71-place gulf that stands between the clubs despite Birmingham's Premiership troubles. "It was a bit edgy," admitted the Birmingham manager, Steve Bruce. "Once we scored, it was more comfortable."

Bruce saw fit to make six changes, the most significant being the decision to leave Chris Sutton on the bench alongside Emile Heskey, whose X-rays have shown no serious knee damage. In the duo's absence, Torquay created many of the first-half chances, aided by woeful marking.

Beaten at Darlington and Bury either side of third-round weekend, they found set-pieces a regular route towards goal, Adam Lockwood floating a first-minute header off target after a long throw from his central defensive partner, James Sharp. Twice, the home team repeated the offence. Kevin Hill was all on his own to volley wide Steve Woods's corner. Then Lockwood nodded over from another Woods corner.

With Morike Sako, a 6ft 7in French midfielder, demanding a diving save with a 25-yard free-kick, the replay was not going much smoother for the favourites than the first meeting did.

That said, they also threatened. David Dunn nodded straight at Andy Marriott before Forssell slammed a low, left-foot drive against the post from Julian Gray's pull-back. Marriott, who played one game for Birmingham in 2003, made the first of several outstanding saves when matching Jarosik's shot out of nothing from an angle.

Torquay, urged on by 2,000 fans, have never been beyond the fourth round but Birmingham's stuttering performance encouraged their thoughts of a sixth appearance at that stage.

Jermaine Pennant drew a comfortable near-post save from Marriott, and the keeper was not troubled shortly afterwards when Forssell lashed wide following a promising run.

The pressure was building and brought a 60th-minute reward. Pennant's cross was punched by Marriott but Neil Kilkenny's follow-up was turned in by Jarosik from six yards for his sixth goal of the season.

The second-half proved largely scare-free for Birmingham, who were often close to making sure. Dunn fired narrowly off target on the run, Forssell was magnificently denied by Marriott from close range and Pennant saw another effort pushed wide.

Breathing space came 10 minutes from time when Pennant highlighted his fine contribution with a lovely cross that was bulleted home from seven yards by the head of Forssell.

It was the Finn's first goal since a Carling Cup brace at Scunthorpe and secured a trip to Reading, but it was not enough to dismay the Torquay manager, Leroy Rosenior. "I was proud of my players," he said. "We really needed to take one of those chances."

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot (Bruce, 75), Martin Taylor, Upson, Gray; Pennant, Kilkenny, Clemence, Dunn; Forssell, Jarosik. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Painter, Sutton, Heskey.

Torquay United (4-4-2): Marriott; Lawless, Lockwood, Sharp, Lloyd; Phillips (Connell, 65), Sako (Garner, 53), Woods (Hewlett, 84), Kuffour; Bedeau, Hill. Substitutes not used: Hockley, Villis.

Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire)

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