Sheffield United 2 Birmingham City 4: Birmingham loan stars grab timely triumph for Bruce

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The Independent Football

Two young players on loan from Arsenal, Nicklas Bendtner and Sebastian Larsson, played a crucial part in a Birmingham fightback last night that punished Sheffield United for failing to capitalise on their first-half domination.

It was an invigorating evening for Steve Bruce, the City manager, who bared his soul after emerging victorious from this exciting third-round Carling Cup tie. "This time last week was probably my worst night in football," said Bruce, recalling the home defeat by Norwich in the Championship. "Fair play to everyone - it shows what a difference a week can make."

In terms of line-up, this was a match complicated by what loomed on the horizon. On Saturday, the Blades and City meet Chelsea and West Bromwich respectively. Neil Warnock changed all 11 players from United's side against Everton; whereas Bruce limited his personnel swaps to a modest seven.

Whether Adi Akinbiyi's 21st-minute goal for United was a fluke or an amazing feat we shall never know, but Danny Webber's centre was steered over Colin Doyle, giving the keeper no chance.

City's 41st-minute equaliser also had a strong element of fluke to it. In passing back, Chris Morgan's ball caught Dudley Campbell's outstretched leg and looped over Ian Bennett.

Bendtner's 70th-minute goal took advantage of Cameron Jerome returning from an offside position. The entire Blades back line ignored Martin Taylor's punt upfield and Bendtner - an 18-year-old Danish striker loaned to City in August - sprinted past them, lobbing Bennett as Jerome withdrew from the active play.

Less than 10 minutes later, a thoughtless Craig Short back-pass allowed Jerome to intercept and almost tease Bennett as he netted City's third.

As Warnock remarked later: "I thought our defenders were their best forwards." The Blades were visibly stunned but Nick Montgomery hammered home a free-kick after a bad foul by Stephen Kelly.

But City then launched a fresh attack and Neil Kilkenny crossed for Larsson, a 21-year-old Swede loaned from Arsenal, to nudge home a simple chance.

Sheffield United (4-3-3): Bennett; Sommeil, Morgan, Short, Unsworth; Ifill, Montgomery, Law; Webber (Geary, 75), Akinbiyi (Nade, 66), Kabba. Substitutes not used: Kozluk, Lucketti, Li Tie.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Doyle; Kelly, Taylor, Jaidi, Sadler; Larsson, Danns, Muamba, Gray; Jerome (Kilkenny, 82), Campbell (Bendtner, 58). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Painter, McSheffrey.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).