Heskey provides touch of class

Birmingham 2 - Blackburn 1
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The Independent Football

At least there was one Robbie on hand at St Andrews to steal the headlines, but it was Birmingham striker Blake rather than Blackburn's absent Savage.

At least there was one Robbie on hand at St Andrews to steal the headlines, but it was Birmingham striker Blake rather than Blackburn's absent Savage.

A gentleman's agreement between the clubs had precluded former City midfielder Savage from making a potentially contentious return to City just three months after his highly-controversial £3million move to Rovers.

His non-appearance proved a disappointment to the City fans who had long been waiting for the Wales international to again dare show his face at the club.

But that was forgotten as super-sub Blake shone, scoring one moments after his 60th-minute arrival before making the other 20 minutes later for matchwinner Emile Heskey.

The victory was fully merited, and all the more remarkable because for the first time this season City came from behind to take the three points, ending a run of three straight home defeats to Rovers in which they had failed to score a single goal.

City boss Steve Bruce had previously watched his side concede the opening goal on 18 other occasions this campaign, losing 13 and drawing five, so at least there was a crumb of comfort from the win and performance in an otherwise meaningless end-of-season affair.

More surprising, perhaps, is that Blackburn managed to score at all bearing in mind they were on the back foot for almost the entire game.

Bruce's side should have taken an eighth-minute lead, but after on-loan striker Walter Pandiani had taken one touch to control a deflected Jermaine Pennant corner, he proceeded to crack his angled shot against the right-hand post.

Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel then gratefully looked on as the ball rolled along the goal-line behind him before the danger was finally cleared. Pennant, who will join City on a permanent £3million deal from Arsenal this summer, again proved Bruce's judgment correct as he tormented Blackburn on both flanks.

Heskey and Pandiani could not have asked for greater service, with the latter powering a 12th-minute header into the welcoming arms of Friedel from a whipped-in Pennant cross.

It was Jonathan Stead, though, who showed Pandiani how it should be done moments later as Rovers fashioned their one meaningful counter-attack of the first half, and it reaped rich reward.

Stead initiated the move, playing the ball out wide for Brett Emerton to chase and he curled in a pinpoint ball onto the head of Rovers' unmarked striker to beat Maik Taylor from six yards.

City were rocked, but they soon regained the initiative, notably through Pennant whose 29th-minute ball was turned goalwards by the flying Ryan Nelsen, only for Friedel to stop the ball on the line.

After two handball appeals against Lucas Neill had been ignored by Kent referee Barry Knight, much to the ire of the City faithful, tormentor Pennant forced Aaron Mokoena into a stunning clearance from inside his own six-yard box as Heskey threatened.

Heskey was then inches off-target soon after with a first-time shot in meeting a Stan Lazaridis cross - for a change - before Stead wasted a glorious opportunity to make it 2-0 in injury time.

In pushing men forward, Birmingham were caught asleep at the back, and after beating the offside trap and powering into the area, Stead drove his shot over the bar when he should have at least hit the target.

But it then seemed typical of Birmingham's luck that five minutes after the interval there was no-one on hand to tap home from close range Pandiani's sidefoot ball through the six-yard box after he had met a Pennant free-kick from the left.

Inspiration was required from somewhere and it came in the form of Blake's arrival on the hour as Bruce went for broke by playing with three strikers.

Within 90 seconds Blake was on target, firing a crisp shot beyond Friedel after Heskey had touched a Pandiani through-ball into his path, with Lazaridis also instrumental in the move.

It was nothing more than City deserved, and with Blackburn rattled it could have been 2-1 soon after, but Friedel was fortunate to get away with a rare mistake when he spilled yet another Pennant free-kick, with no blue shirt again on hand to take advantage.

The American's luck, though, deserted him 10 minutes from time when he perhaps should have done better with Heskey's crisp edge-of-the-area drive that flashed under him, with Blake the supplier with a flick-on to further justify Bruce's switch on the hour.