On-song Odemwingie overcomes the Blues

West Bromwich Albion 3, Birmingham City 1: Nigerian forced to leave Moscow begins to repay Albion's warm welcome
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The Independent Football

"Thanks Lokomotiv" are the words on the banner tucked away in the corner of the Birmingham Road stand. It is a protest from West Bromwich Albion supporters against the racism of Lokomotiv Moscow fans and their treatment of Peter Odemwingie. The Nigerian striker escaped the Russian capital for a more tolerant life at the Hawthorns. He has been welcomed with open arms, and is certainly doing his bit to repay the adoration.

The Nigerian international was the subject of some spiteful treatment at his former club, including banners which proclaimed "thank you WBA" with a banana in the middle, after Odemwingie chose to move to the Premier League for £1.5m in August. Albion have been parsimonious in their spending under chairman Jeremy Peace but that could turn into a valuable investment. The Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish was once linked with the same player and how he must wish he could lay his hands on a genuine goalscorer himself.

Odemwingie was one of the major reasons Birmingham lost their unbeaten start to the season. He scored his second goal since joining the club and will contest an own goal awarded against Scott Dann, which were the result of "individual mistakes" that McLeish will need time to unravel the reasons for. It was certainly out of character for his team, who by the Scot's admission were "not at the races" after Odemwingie's intervention.

It is also confirmation of Roberto Di Matteo's belief that his team are learning with every game at this level and their second half performance, after trailing to Cameron Jerome's 15th minute goal, underlines that assertion and the fact that the Italian is also acclimatising nicely, judging by his half-time change which pushed Odemwingie into a more advanced role and introduced Graham Dorrans. "It was important to control the midfield area. We did that when we made the changes," said Di Matteo.

So much so that McLeish had to substitute Lee Bowyer "for his own good" as the red mist descended and Barry Ferguson and Craig Gardener – who were so dominant in the first half – were forced into reverse.

Bowyer's error for the second goal, a poor first touch, which allowed Odemwingie to steal in and squeeze the ball past Ben Foster would have done little for the midfielder's foul mood and he was involved in a heated exchange with Albion fans as he made his way to sit in the dug-out.

Prior to that it was the turn of the usually reliable Stephen Carr to find himself woefully out of position to allow Jerome Thomas to go past him to the byline and his pass was met with a flurry of legs belonging to Odemwingie and Dann.

Arguments will rage over who made the final touch, but the outcome remained the same and provided a launch pad from which Jonas Olsson added the finishing touches with a wonderful header to give Albion their first win over their rivals in five years.

Di Matteo added: "That is another good second half performance from us. We did it against Sunderland and we did it against Spurs. We are on course for what we are trying to do, but we go to Arsenal next. So it is not getting any easier."

With Alexander Hleb demonstrating some neat touches as he was given his full debut in place of the stricken James McFadden, who will miss most of the season with a cruciate ligament injury suffered in training, the Belarus international gave some tantalising glimpses of what he can add when he is fully fit.

"I asked the players to win the game for James McFadden," commented McLeish. "I should have mentioned it to them again at half time because they must have forgotten."