Birmingham City, standing high and proud at seventh in the Premiership, experienced the lows and embarrassment of the Carling Cup last night. Scott Taylor's strike after just six minutes was enough to take lowly Blackpool, of the Second Division, into the third round.
Birmingham, whose excellent League form this season has been based more on defensive solidity than attacking flair, enjoyed more possession but were unable to beat Lee Jones in the Blackpool goal. The nearest they came to forcing extra-time was the penalty that Stephen Clemence sent high over the bar.
The visitors arrived on the back of an impressive start to their Premiership campaign. Having played a game fewer than leaders Arsenal they stand just three points from the top of the table.
Their manager, Steve Bruce, made it clear that this competition was a genuine priority and named a strong team, with Senegal's World Cup star Aliou Cisse replacing Robbie Savage and the strikers Clinton Morrison and Stern John deputising for Mikkel Forssell and Christophe Dugarry. Until last night, Blackpool's form had been much more impressive away from Bloomfield Road. Their manager, the former England midfielder Steve McMahon, had resisted the temptation to restore John Murphy to the starting XI.
The Seasiders' leading scorer last season is still recovering from injury and had to settle for a place on the bench. His manager clearly knew best because within six minutes Murphy's stand-in, Taylor, had scored what proved to be the decisive goal.
In Blackpool's first attack of any note, Taylor ran on to Mike Sheron's through ball before finishing coolly past Maik Taylor. "It was a great performance from us tonight and a great evening for the fans," said McMahon.
"We had a game plan and it worked, and in the end Birmingham were just frustrated. To get a Premiership scalp is excellent. We had a great start, getting the goal so early. Even though that was a full strength side that Steve Bruce put out, we weren't torn apart and they didn't create many chances so the victory is very satisfying."
Birmingham continually struggled to break down the home side, who repeatedly withdrew all 11 men behind the ball. Too often the central defenders Matthew Upson and Kenny Cunningham were reduced to long punts and with Cisse failing to replicate Savage's urgency, it was left to the talented Dunn to inspire his team-mates.
This he duly did with a reverse pass that led to a penalty when Stan Lazaridis was pushed. Up stepped Clemence - Dunn having been relieved of the duties after missing spot kicks against Newcastle and Leeds - and promptly scooped his effort comfortably over the crossbar.
Bruce belatedly introduced Forssell and also gave a debut to the Argentinian striker Luciano Figueroa. But ultimately he was left to rue that costly penalty. "We wouldn't have scored if we had played until midnight," Bruce admitted.
Blackpool (3-5-2): Jones; Grayson, Clarke, Davis; Douglas, Wellens (Coid 56), Southern, Danns, Evans; Sheron (Murphy 67), Taylor (Bullock 90). Substitutes not used: Barnes (gk), Hilton.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Johnson, Cunningham (Kirobski 85), Upson, Clapham; Dunn, Cisse (Figueroa 65), Clemence, Lazaridis; Morrison, John (Forssell 55). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Tebily.
Referee: G Laws.
* Charlton survived a scare last night when they beat Luton 8-7 on penalties at The Valley to scrape through in the Carling Cup. The Premiership side were saved by Paolo Di Canio who took the second round tie to extra-time by making it 3-3 deep into injury time. Claus Jensen put Charlton ahead for the first time in the 95th minute only for Chris Coyne to equalise for the Second Division side to make it 4-4 in the 110th minute and take it to a shootout.Reuse content