Alexander Hleb observed recently that Birmingham City are "not exactly Barcelona or Arsenal". Until Alex McLeish hit upon a formation to accommodate his craft, what St Andrew's had seen was not exactly Alexander Hleb either.
The Belarusian arrived on a season-long loan from the Nou Camp in August, although McLeish admitted on Saturday he had not been in peak condition. Hleb has completed only two games, flitting between central midfield and the flanks. Against Blackpool he was deployed behind Nikola Zigic and Garry O'Connor in a diamond formation – and the result was closer to his north London form. Barry Ferguson, the counter-balance to Hleb's thrusts, called it a 4-4-2. McLeish preferred to brand it 4-3-1-2.
"We knew they played with two in front of the back four, and if Hleb played behind our front two, one of the two Blackpool players would have to go with him," said the Birmingham manager said, who drew his inspiration from the Bundesliga. "That would give us an extra man in midfield. Werder Bremen played that formation successfully with Diego in that position. Now Steve McClaren is trying it at Wolfsburg because Diego is there."
Blackpool were undone by poor defending at set pieces, which allowed Liam Ridgewell to convert a stooping header and Zigic to stab home.
Birmingham City (4-3-1-2): Foster; Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Fahey ( Bowyer, 66); Hleb ( Murphy, 73); Zigic, O'Connor ( Derbyshire, 83). Substitutes not used Taylor (gk), K Phillips, Michel, Jiranek.
Blackpool (4-3-3) Gilks; Eardley, Evatt, Cathcart, Crainey; Vaughan, Adam (Southern, 66), Taylor-Fletcher; Harewood M Phillips (66), Campbell, Varney ( Ormerod, 73). Substitutes not used Kingson (gk), Grandin, Carney, Keinan.
Possession Birmingham 55%, Blackpool 45%.
Shots on target Birmingham 8, Blackpool 6.
Referee A Taylor (Manchester). Attendance: 26,850.
Man of the match Hleb. Match rating: 7/10.Reuse content