Cole and Pearce see eye to eye as City display winning attitude

Birmingham City 1 Manchester City 2
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Speaking after Cole had completed Manchester City's recovery with a stunning first goal for the club at Birmingham, Pearce confirmed that nudging the age of 34 has not mellowed his new forward. Not only did he still "stand and fight his corner", a trait that famously led to Cole and Teddy Sheringham not speaking to each other at Manchester United, but he was prepared to go eyeball to eyeball with his manager.

Pearce had wanted to be certain that Cole's reasons for coming back to Manchester had a sound basis in football as well as family. So before the transfer was finalised this summer, the one-time England team-mates met to discuss their aspirations. It was then, Pearce recalled, that Cole looked across the table with a face that told the most intimidating defender of his generation: "If you're an idiot, I'll soon suss you out."

Pearce saw his approach, like his willingness to take a hefty pay cut, as proof of his professionalism. In training, too, the former Fulham striker's reaction to any out-of-the-ordinary exercise showed he remains an individual with attitude.

"He looks you straight in the eye," Pearce explained, "as if to say, 'If you haven't got it right, I'll have you'."

At St Andrew's, it was Birmingham's turn to take one in the eye. Seconds after the crowd jeered a seemingly overhit cross by Trevor Sinclair, a swing of Cole's supposedly weaker (left) foot bludgeoned the ball beyond Maik Taylor. He had already helped to set up the tap-in by Joey Barton that cancelled out a goal by another Old Trafford old boy, Nicky Butt. For the man who captained them at United, Steve Bruce, it was much as he had warned before the match.

"Andy has done that for the best part of 15 years now," sighed the Birmingham manager, a reminder that Cole played in Arsenal's first team when the mullet was fashionable and the Premier League a twinkle in the eyes of a handful of chairmen. "His goal was a great finish, and the way he has looked after himself means he also still has that yard of pace."

The mobility provided by Cole and Pearce's other new striker, Darius Vassell from Aston Villa, has given City a different dimension. There was a hint of vintage Nottingham Forest about the way they moved the ball around on the ground, perhaps unsurprising given that Pearce and his new coach, Steve Wigley, both served under Brian Clough.

City's pace meant they could draw Birmingham on to them before hitting them on the break. Vassell, in particular, also makes more challenges than most front-runners, preventing the opposition from building moves from the back.

It is too soon to deduce long-term prospects. Even so, Pearce is now unbeaten in 10 matches since he lost at Tottenham after succeeding Kevin Keegan. He was surely as pleased with his previously untried central-defensive duo of Richard Dunne and Stephen Jordan as with his new strike force and under-fire goalkeeper, David James.

Birmingham could take encouragement from a bright opening, in which Butt combined industry and invention. On another day, or with a different referee, at least one of their three penalty appeals would have been granted. However, they looked laboured in comparison with City, who were conspicuously sharper in the 50-50 challenges.

A fit Emile Heskey would enhance their options. But with two players set to leave, Darren Anderton to Wolves and Clinton Morrison to Crystal Palace or Norwich for £2m, Bruce is clearing the decks for further signings before the transfer window closes next week.

Goals: Butt (7) 1-0; Barton (20) 1-1; Cole (47) 1-2.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham (Lazaridis, 77); Pennant, Butt (Izzet, 65), Clemence, Gray; Forssell, Pandiani.

Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Tebily, Kilkenny.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Dunne, Jordan, Thatcher; Sinclair, Barton, Reyna (Sun Jihai, 72), Musampa; Cole (Sibierski, 87), Vassell (Wright- Phillips, 90).

Substitutes not used: De Vlieger (gk), Onuoha.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

Booked: BirminghamButt, Clemence, Pandiani; Manchester City Musampa.

Man of the match: Cole.

Attendance: 26,366.