Fahey aids rebirth of Blues

Birmingham City 1 Southampton 0: Irishman now feeling at home with Birmingham leaves Southampton heading in wrong direction
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The Independent Football

Riveting and smooth it isn't but Birmingham City are again grinding out the victories that could secure their third promotion in eight years.

Keith Fahey's well-struck shot in first-half stoppage time and a high-tempo kick-on from the improved midweek performance against Bristol City were enough for three points against opponents who performed a worrying disappearing act after genuinely threating for half an hour.

Southampton's manager Mark Wotte acknowledged the justice of a result that increased the likelihood of these clubs exiting the Championship by contrasting routes in May.

Wedged as Birmingham are between Wolverhampton Wanderers and a now more distant Reading, such assignments are not to be messed up given that the leading teams are largely winning en bloc again after a spell of losing together.

"The last four days have been excellent," said Alex McLeish. "We have shown good spirit and mentality and there was a really mature side to us.

We're in a strong challenging position."

Birmingham's manager was much less effusive over the comments of his managing director Karren Brady's in her newspaper column about him being 'in Phil Scholari territory.' "Our team is much inferior to the sum of talent at our disposal," she wrote. McLeish's terse response was: "I'm here to talk about the match."

Wotte's build-up wasn't ideal either. He has pledged full support for Bradley Wright-Phillips and David McGoldrick after their arrests on suspicion of affray and assault, although he was perturbed that their appearance at a Southampton police station on Thursday lasted until three o'clock on Friday morning. Ashley Cole territory, you might say.

Wright-Phillips didn't figure here and hasn't done much recently but McGoldrick, having done little more than earn a booking for diving, was withdrawn at half-time because his manager detected tiredness.

Initially, Southampton played every bit like a side revitalised by three consecutive victories, Marek Saganowski turning Lloyd James' cross narrowly wide and then heading Simon Gillett's corner goalwards for Stephen Carr to nod off the line.

Not by accident, though, do Birmingham have a record of four victories and two draws from their last six home matches. They were strong and Franck Queudrue twice fired off target while providing a centre which Kelvin Davis scrambled wide.

Despite losing Marcus Bent with a hamstring problem and having Lee Carsley swathed in a Basil Fawlty-like bandage following a clash of heads with Jason Euell, Birmingham became a dominant force.

Davis survived major embarrassment when Seb Larsson's long through ball bounced over him as he raced from his area in an attempt to head clear, only for the breakthrough to duly follow. Cameron Jerome was the architect on the right side of the area with a run and square pass that was touched on by Lee Bowyer and powerfully swept home by Fahey's right foot.

The emphatic finish, which followed a comfortably saved header from the 2008 Irish League Player of the Year, was another sign of his settling down in the Second City. He scored his first Birmingham goal last month, having headed back to Dublin because of homesickness when on Aston Villa's books as a youngster.

Southampton survived penalty appeals when the excellent Chris Perry took the ball as well as Jerome's legs as the forward shaped to shoot, then Larsson's deft free-kick just cleared the bar and Carlos Costly saw a ferocious angled left-foot shot superbly palmed away.

Costly's fellow substitute Scott Sinclair clipped the outside of the post late on following a brilliant run and Wotte said: "I'm very positive and confident that we can pick the boys up. Losing at Birmingham isn't the end of the world."