McLeish revels in rapid rise of rejuvenated Birmingham

Wigan Athletic 2 Birmingham City 3
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The Independent Online

No manager trying to stay afloat in the treacherous waters of the Premier League would turn down the kind of transfer funding promised by Birmingham City's new owners and if a January spree might help his team steer clear of danger then Alex McLeish will happily spend.

It has been suggested that McLeish might have up to £40m at his disposal, thanks to the ambitions of the Hong Kong businessman, Carson Yeung, whose group paid a reported £81.5m to buy the club. McLeish has embarked on a series of overseas scouting missions, with a striker his priority.

Yet when the former Rangers manager reviews Birmingham's position at the end of the season it may be that recent progress made on more limited resources offers greater satisfaction. A run of six matches without defeat, four of them won, has seen Birmingham climb into the top half of the table. Languishing in 16th after defeat at Arsenal on 17 October, they were eighth at close of play on Saturday.

McLeish's detractors in the St Andrews crowd have largely fallen silent. "Looking at the league table does bring a sense of pride and satisfaction," he said. "I felt we were playing well even when the results were not going for us and I think the fans are now appreciating what they see."

Their £8.5m Ecuadorian striker Christian Benitez scored his second goal for the club in between two successful direct free kicks from Sebastian Larsson as Birmingham turned round a 1-0 half-time deficit with a rousing second-half display.

It left the Wigan manager, Roberto Martinez also thinking about January. The sales of Emile Heskey, Wilson Palacios, Lee Cattermole and Antonio Valencia in the last 12 months have taken their toll and Martinez knows he needs reinforcements.

Wigan Athletic (4-5-1): Kirkland (Pollitt 24); Melchiot, Bramble, Boyce (Gomez 76), Figueroa; N'Zogbia, Scharner, Diame (Sinclair 69), Thomas, Rodallega; Scotland. Substitutes not used: Amaya, Koumas, Kapo, McCarthy.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart; Carr, R Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, McFadden; Jerome (Fahey 81), Benitez. Substitutes not used: Maik Taylor (gk), McSheffrey, Queudrue, O'Shea, Carsley, Vignal.

Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).

Booked: Wigan Rodallega, Thomas.

Man of the match: Bowyer.

Attendance: 18,797.

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