Birmingham City 5 Portsmouth 0: Pompey punished as Pennant finally comes of age

Birmingham's relegation worries are eased with a thumping victory for Bruce's men aided by a long-awaited stellar performance from expensive recruit
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The Independent Football

"He's so exciting, isn't he?" enthused his manager, Steve Bruce. "When he's in full flow, like today, he's unplayable. When he takes the ball early, he's got such quick feet. He's like an old-fashioned winger. A dying breed. He dances past people and looks a real talent. Like many young players, he's had his ups and downs. But he's as good as he wants to be."

Pennant epitomised the quality that Birmingham do possess in their ranks, but which they too frequently fail to exhibit, or which, according to their manager, has lain dormant on the injury table. Suddenly portents appear a little more auspicious for Bruce, who, with the bookmakers having recently ceased taking bets on him becoming the next Premiership manager to be cast adrift, watched his men offer a rude retort on his behalf.

"It's no coincidence that this result came when all the big players were back, like [Mario] Melchiot, [David] Dunn, and [Mikael] Forssell [the latter pair both substitutes]," said Bruce. "And, of course, the addition of Chris Sutton to the squad has given everybody a quick lift. Gordon Strachan rated him highly at Celtic, and I can see why, having worked with him for two weeks. He's been fantastic."

Bruce's lugubrious counterpart, Harry Redknapp, has features designed to embrace misery, but even he had the look of a man who knows he is about to be shoved off the lifeboat into freezing sea. "A massive blow," he opined. "And I've lost my captain, [Dejan] Stefanovic, with a very serious facial injury. I didn't see it, but I gather he was whacked in the face by an elbow." The elbow was Forssell's, as he and Stefanovic challenged for the ball late on. The Serb went off on a stretcher. The Finn went, probably correctly, unpunished, and then won the penalty which he converted himself for City's fourth. "It's looking bleak," admitted Redknapp. "But this is a squad which is woefully weak. I've brought four players in, but we're still well short."

There had been a mischievous suggestion beforehand that Sven Goran Eriksson should have been here to run his eye over Sutton and Emile Heskey as a potential England partnership. By the end, it wasn't so much of a joke as both, together with Pennant, regularly laid siege to the visitors' goal.

Sutton still possesses a footballing brain, which contributed to City's second goal. And earlier, after a mistake by Stefanovic, allowing Heskey to square to him, he could have enjoyed a goal on his home debut, but for Jamie Ashdown's save.

By that stage, City were already ahead. Their opener had more than a touch of London Blues about it. A splendid cross dug out by former Chelsea defender Melchiot was perfectly struck for Jiri Jarosik, on a season's loan from Stamford Bridge, to head in firmly at the far post.

Seven minutes before the break, a Heskey header was dummied by Sutton, and Pennant seized control, jinked his way across and around two defenders before confidently beating Ashdown with a left-footed drive.

That interval scoreline flattered City. Benjani Mwaruwari, the Zimbabwe striker who was due to fly out directly after the match to play in the African Nations' Cup, and Vincent Pericard both might have scored either side of City's early goal. Mwaruwari was thwarted by goalkeeper Maik Taylor. Pericard did beat Taylor, but his effort drifted wide.

After the break, Birmingham confirmed their victory when Matthew Upson buried a header, from Pennant's corner, past Ashdown. Portsmouth tried to rally but Mwaruwari was denied by Taylor. A by then dispirited Portsmouth conceded a fourth from Forssell's penalty in added time. There was still the opportunity for substitute Dunn to drive home a fifth.

Pompey, who, on top of everything else face a Premier League inquiry over an alleged illegal approach to Redknapp which culminated in him moving from Southampton, did not merit this scale of a defeat, but they looked a team who, for all their manager's forays into the transfer market, still appear destined to join their deadly rivals in theChampionship. The delight will be all Southampton's.