Zigic goals helping to repay McLeish's faith

Birmingham 1 Stoke 0
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The Independent Football

Just when it seemed Nikola Zigic might hasten the end of Alex McLeish after three years in charge the giant Serb striker has emerged as the man to take the pressure off the Birmingham City manager.

Birmingham slipped into the bottom three when they were beaten at home by Arsenal on New Year's Day, after which comments from the boardroom about the return on owner Carson Yeung's transfer funding did not augur well for McLeish, whose £6m summer signing from Valencia had at that point managed only two Premier League goals.

It did not help that Zigic, despite standing 6ft 7ins tall, plainly did not like heading the ball, which is something of a disadvantage in a league where high balls into the box are a stock delivery. So, after watching him head the winner in two consecutive matches, McLeish is understandably relieved.

"It is difficult for a manager when you sign a player who takes time to adjust," he said. "More so for a team like us because we don't have time to let a player find his feet. We want him to hit the ground running and it is frustrating for everyone.

"Zigic was surprised at what the Premier League was like. He's in there [the medical room] needing an oxygen mask because of the intensity of the game and the running you have to do. On the Continent they are more efficient because they move the ball better and save energy.

"He's got cuts on both eyes now. I said to him 'welcome to English football, big man'. But it's not that he's not brave, more not used to it."

Accommodating Obafemi Martins should not prove so difficult, given the Nigerian's experience with Newcastle. He lasted 76 minutes on his debut before lack of recent action began to tell, which was a decent effort on a heavy pitch against uncompromising opponents.

His substitute, Cameron Jerome, had the legs to win the ball and supply the lob from which Zigic fashioned the decisive moment. Otherwise, although Barry Ferguson's competitiveness caught the eye, there was negligible quality. As the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, aptly put it: "Neither side deserved to win".

Scorer: Birmingham Zigic 90.

Subs: Birmingham Jerome 7 (Martins, 75) Unused Doyle (gk), Davies, Bowyer, Fahey, Beausejour, Phillips.

Stoke Whelan 6 (Pennant, 78), Fuller 6 (Jones, 81) Unused Sorensen (gk), Higginbotham, Collins, Wilkinson, Diao.

Booked: Birmingham Jiranek.

Man of the match Ferguson Match raing 5/10.

Possession Birmingham 52% Stoke 48%.

Attempts on target Birmingham 4 Stoke 5.

Referee M Halsey (Lancashire) Att 23,660.

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