Jerome beats Potters at their own game
Stoke City 0 Birmingham City 1
Tuesday 29 December 2009
Birmingham's days continue to be merry and bright. A combination of Cameron Jerome's fourth goal of the season and Joe Hart's saving grace in the face of Stoke's second-half barrage stretched their unbeaten run to 11 games, equalling the club's best in the top flight since 1907-08.
Yesterday's victory took them to 32 points, just eight short of the putative safety mark. Indeed, their followers departed singing: "We're all going on a European tour." Birmingham, impressively marshalled by Barry Ferguson, are now in seventh place, with a £40m war chest from new owner Carson Yeung at Alex McLeish's disposal in a few days' time. Stoke, who have won once in nine matches and remain the division's lowest scorers with 15 goals from 19 games, face a fight for survival unless they can find a finisher when the transfer window reopens.
The meaningful action was condensed into an eight-minute period soon after half-time. First, Stoke were hoist by their own petard, conceding from a set-piece. James McFadden's corner was headed on by Scott Dann, striking Ryan Shawcross before falling obligingly to Jerome, who swivelled and turned the ball in off Thomas Sorensen's body at point-blank range.
As Stoke piled forward in search of an equaliser, Hart sprung one way to claw Liam Lawrence's corner off the head of James Beattie, then dived in the opposite direction to keep out Matthew Etherington's fierce volley.
McLeish talked of an "awesome achievement" by his players, especially after the energy they expended in holding leaders Chelsea 48 hours earlier. Yet he remained reluctant to tempt providence, adding: "The sooner we get to 40 points the better." Asked where he thought that the 22-year-old Hart, with one England cap, ought to be ranked among the keepers in the elite division, McLeish grinned. "About 10th." Why so low? "Because we want to get him on a cheap deal."
Tony Pulis, his Stoke counterpart, bemoaned referee Martin Atkinson's failure to spot Stephen Carr's tug on Robert Huth in the second half. "He wrestles him to the ground," Pulis said. "As blatant a penalty as you'll see."
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Ab Faye, Higginbotham; Lawrence (Sidibe, 82), Delap, Whitehead, Etherington; Beattie (Fuller, 70), Tuncay. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Cort, Pugh, Am Faye, Collins.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart; Carr, R Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson (Fahey, 77), Ferguson, Bowyer, McFadden; Benitez, Jerome. Substitutes not used: Maik Taylor (gk), Phillips, McSheffrey, D Johnson, Carsley, Vignal.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Stoke City Delap, Shawcross; Birmingham City Bowyer, Carr, Jerome.
Man of the match: Hart.
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