Jarosik's rare display lifts Blues up the pecking order

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The Independent Football

Four months after becoming arguably the least-known player ever to win a championship medal, Jarosik moved to the Midlands a week ago on a season-long loan. Before his debut for Birmingham in the embarrassment by Middlesbrough, he had completed 90 minutes once in the Premiership, curiously on the day Chelsea clinched their first title in 50 years. So this frenetic derby represented a test of stamina as well as a culture shock, yet his quality shone through.

With his tousled blond locks, high cheek-bones, deceptively languid movement and adhesive touch, it was like an exotic bird alighting on a Black Country industrial estate. The 6ft 4in Jarosik even headed a goal, sandwiched between two aerial strikes by Emile Heskey, to underline a serious flaw in West Bromwich Albion's make-up and leave his new manager, Steve Bruce, purring with pleasure and relief.

It was vital for Birmingham, who perceive themselves as top-10 material and have spent accordingly, that they did not go into the international break without a victory. By the time they resume the campaign, at home to Charlton a week next Saturday, several players will have received badly needed match-conditioning with their countries or taken the opportunity to recover from niggling injuries.

Mikael Forssell, Damien Johnson and Muzzy Izzet all looked short of sharpness after long lay-offs, while Jarosik, who was mainly a substitute at Stamford Bridge, understandably faded as Albion huffed and puffed in pursuit of an equaliser. Heskey, too, had not played or trained since the opening-day draw at Fulham, making the way he used his mobility and muscle to such effect all the more commendable.

Bruce maintains that Birmingham are a different team when the former Liverpool striker plays.

"I came up against Emile when I was 35 and he was just a teenager at Leicester," he said. "Me and Gary Pallister came into the dressing-room afterwards saying to each other, 'What the hell was that?' He was absolutely frightening and when he's in that kind of mood, he's practically unplayable."

The contrast between Heskey's ruthlessness and Kevin Campbell's wastefulness proved decisive. The Albion captain could have had a hat-trick inside half an hour. His worst misses came a minute either side of Jarosik's goal and were put into sharp relief by Heskey's second. Geoff Horsfield was more accurate, twice exploiting comical defending by his former club, but Bryan Robson's side too often pumped in long balls that played to the strength of Bruce's centre-backs.

Robson's central defenders, Thomas Gaardsoe and Neil Clement, were never convincing. As Bruce's former Manchester United colleague noted, his players' marking and tracking was poor, although disappointment surely clouded his judgement when he claimed none of the seven goals Albion conceded to Chelsea and Birmingham in a week were of any real merit.

The observation was unfair to Jermaine Pennant, whose wing play gave Birmingham a dimension Albion lacked as Zoltan Gera and Jonathan Greening were peripheral. Pennant's delivery for Birmingham's third carried reverse swing, to use one of the phrases of the summer. "Getting on the end of his crosses is a pleasure," Heskey said. "All you have to do is make a run into the box and he can find you."

Albion's next opponents are Wigan and Sunderland, so mid-September could find them in mid-table. Unless they can defend better as a team and coax more from their creative players, however, the danger is that they will instead be, in the words of a Jarosik's mum, somewhere else.

Goals: Heskey (10) 0-1; Horsfield (12) 1-1; Jarosik (26) 1-2; Heskey (32) 1-3; Horsfield (64) 2-3.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kirkland; Watson (Albrechtsen, h-t), Gaardsoe, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Wallwork, Carter (Earnshaw, 77), Greening; Horsfield, Campbell (Ellington, 56). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Moore.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham; Pennant, Butt, Jarosik, Johnson (Clemence, 82); Heskey (Pandiani, 63), Forssell (Izzet, 73). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Gray.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: West Bromwich Clement; Birmingham City Clapham, Jarosik, Upson.

Man of the match: Heskey.

Attendance: 23,993.

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