Birmingham City 3 Plymouth Argyle 0: McSheffrey helps Blues set pace in title chase

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The Independent Football

By the general consensus that this is an ordinary Championship, Birmingham City now have an inviting opportunity to make the firmest of imprints.

Crystal Palace, Burnley, Cardiff City and Preston North End have all come and gone as pace-setters - a quartet few would have marked down as pre-season favourites.

Birmingham, too, have had a couple of previous brief stays at the top, but not with them in anything like the form that has just swept them back there. This time there could soon be serious daylight, with three of the side's next five games also at St Andrew's, the first against second-placed Preston next Saturday.

Spirited Plymouth Argyle have learned more painfully than anyone that Birmingham are on a real roll; seven wins in nine League games including one at Home Park a month ago, eight goals in three matches, key men on top of their game and Matthew Upson fit, playing and even scoring following eight months on the sidelines.

"We can stay top," the defender insisted. "There's no reason why not. We have a group of players who are hungry and high-energy. It was looking like a dour, dull game but a couple flashes of brilliance and we go a goal up, then two and then three." Upson's apparent desire to leave is one blot on the landscape, although Birmingham have come this far almost entirely without him - and the money his sale would generate could trigger more plundering of the transfer market.

As much as Steve Bruce has rebuilt and re-energised his squad with younger blood since relegation last May, he has done so around a firm Premiership-proven nucleus of players.

Nicklas Bendtner is the major revelation, changing the course of this game with a high-class 21st-minute finish. Sebastian Larsson, who accompanied him out of Arsenal on loan in the summer, set up two of the goals and then blundered in not scoring himself while Gary McSheffrey had a half-hour purple patch in the middle third of a game in which he made one and, with the help of a big deflection, took his tally for the season to eight.

Plymouth started very brightly, with David Norris and the captain, Paul Wotton, threatening early breakthroughs. Their defending was at times naïve, though, in the burst of three goals in 20 minutes. By the time they produced another flurry of efforts that tested the impressive Maik Taylor, the horse had bolted - clear of the field and probably en route for the Premiership.

Goals: Bendtner (21) 1-0; Upson (30) 2-0; McSheffrey (41) 3-0.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Upson, Sadler; Larsson, Nafti, Clemence (Danns, 82), McSheffrey; Bendtner (Campbell, 77), Jerome. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Martin Taylor, Muamba.

Plymouth Argyle (4-4-2): McCormick; Doumbe, Sawyer (Nalis, 61), Seip, Capaldi; Norris, Wotton, Summerfield, Djordic (Aljofree, h-t); Hayles, Buzsaky (Samba, h-t). Substitutes not used: Larrieu (gk), Gosling.

Referee: R Beeby (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Plymouth Hayles, Aljofree, Norris.

Man of the match: McSheffrey.

Attendance: 22,592.

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