Clemence keeps blue bandwagon rolling

Birmingham City 2 Portsmouth 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Birmingham have invested in some stellar talent this year, most notably Christophe Dugarry and David Dunn, their record signing. However it was the rather less-heralded duo of Stephen Clemence and Stan Lazaridis who set up and scored both goals and ensured the home side continued their impressive, unbeaten start to the season.

Moreover, it meant that they climbed to fourth place in the Premiership, something they can cherish in the week leading up to their next fixture, which happens to be a visit to Old Trafford to play Manchester United. This victory, which was well-deserved and surprisingly comfortable, came after Birmingham had been knocked out of the Carling Cup in midweek by Blackpool of the Second Division, Portsmouth had won in the same competition. However, thrashing Northampton Town appeared to be the wrong sort of preparation for a Premiership game.

As Birmingham's manager Steve Bruce said: "We bounced back after the Cup. We ran our socks off and we're off to a great start in the League. We showed our determination." Lazaridis, the Australian left-winger, was the provider for the first goal. The former West Ham player took a free-kick from the right and swung the ball in for Clemence to touch in at the far post.

Bruce explained: "We'd worked on that in training. It's nice when it comes off." For the second goal, roles were reversed. It was Clemence, the former Tottenham midfielder, who found Lazaridis with a long ball over the top. He escaped the clutches of Sebastien Schemmel and Dejan Stefanovic and slipped the ball into Hislop's bottom right-hand corner with apparent nonchalance.

The first goal seemed to kick-start Birmingham and simultaneously served to deflate the visitors, and the Blues should have doubled their lead sooner than they did. With 26 minutes gone, Dugarry, so often the source of all that is best about Birmingham, skipped to the byline but his pull-back beat everyone, including the onrushing Lazaridis. Only 60 seconds later, Birmingham, who were at near full-strength, were only denied a second goal by an excellent goal-line clearance, as Dugarry met Lazaridis' corner with a strong header, only for Steve Stone to clear at the last moment.

Pompey were not at full strength, lacking Patrik Berger and calling in the left-midfielder Matthew Taylor, who was not fully fit. But they finally showed signs of life with three-quarters of the game gone. Twice they threatened to breach the Birmingham defence, but in a manner that proved it was not to be their afternoon neither effort got past Maik Taylor.

With 63 minutes gone, the Russian midfielder Alexei Smertin, who is on loan from Chelsea, let fly from 30 yards and Taylor parried the ball before smothering it. Two minutes later Taylor was helpless when Teddy Sheringham tried his luck from 25 yards, but the former England striker's shot rebounded to safety off the post.

The visiting manager Harry Redknapp was as flat as his team afterwards, and tried to claim some of the moral high ground as he observed Pompey had dominated possession in the second half. However, after this result, which condemned his side to a second consecutive defeat, he conceded: "We lacked a cutting edge and didn't defend well in the first half. But credit to Birmingham, as they've established themselves as a decent Premiership team."

Birmingham City 2 Portsmouth 0
Clemence 21, Lazaridis 50

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 29,057