Phillips breaks City spell as O'Leary jigs with joy

Birmingham City 0 Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Football

Phillips is a specialist in these heated parochial affairs, having scored four times for Sunderland against Newcastle, as well as hitting Southampton's winner over Portsmouth before a £750,000 summer transfer to Villa. His first taste of the West Midlands' biggest derby was approaching the midway point in the first half when he added to his collection, giving his new club their first top-flight win over their neighbours in 22 years.

David O'Leary's side had already shown a desire to atone for their supine record against Birmingham - four defeats and two draws in the modern era - when Eirik Bakke marked a forceful full debut by dispossessing Jermaine Pennant.

The ball was switched around patiently along Villa's right flank before James Milner threaded it into the danger area.

Gareth Barry then executed a deft back-heeled flick, allowing Phillips room to manoeuvre just inside the 18-yard line. The 32-year-old former England striker used it well, leaving Martin Taylor sprawling before unleashing a left-footed shot. At the end of St Andrews where Villa's Thomas Sorensen and Peter Enckelman erred calamitously in previous derbies, Maik Taylor parried the ball but could not keep it out.

Phillips later spoke of his "happy knack" of scoring in derbies, noting he had never been on a losing team when doing so. "We've finally got the monkey off Villa's back," he added. "We also showed we can dig in and fight for a result, which hasn't always been the case."

Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, was left to rue a miss by Julian Gray from "the chance of the match" 10 minutes before the goal. Emile Heskey outjumped three defenders to head on a Pennant cross, the ball falling to the unmarked Gray. He shot hurriedly wide. Taking the lead over Birmingham for only the second time since hostilities were renewed gave Villa the confidence they needed to assert control.

In midfield, the endlessly energetic Steven Davis won a personal duel with his Northern Ireland colleague, Damien Johnson, and Bakke, Milner and Barry all seemed sharper than their opposite numbers.

Birmingham were better after the break and spent most of the last half-hour pouring towards Sorensen's goal. Mikael Forssell worked O'Leary's back-line harder than had Walter Pandiani, while the fit-again David Dunn almost scored with his second touch on appearing for the first time this season. Villa survived two penalty appeals, Mr Poll reading correctly firm challenges by Wilfred Bouma and Olof Mellberg.

Matters threatened to get of hand when Johnson cut down Milner. O'Leary made his displeasure known, prompting a barbed exchange with Dunn. O'Leary sought out the Birmingham player at the end to put a conciliatory arm round him.

The Villa manager also incensed the Birmingham fans by running across the pitch and gesturing towards the main stand. He claimed he was merely acknowledging his chairman, Doug Ellis, and others in the Villa hierarchy who had "taken a lot of stick" over their derby form.

"Compared with last season's games, the difference was that our keeper hasn't thrown the ball in the net" said O'Leary. "He [Sorensen] is a good keeper and showed that today." For Villa, the win was the first away from home in six months and only their second in 12 matches.

For Birmingham, too, the agenda must now focus on the broader issue of Premiership security. They last won at home in May. "We know now it's going to be a long, hard winter," Bruce warned. "That's for sure."

Goal: Phillips (19) 0-1.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Tebily, Martin Taylor, Upson, Clapham (Dunn, 67); Pennant, Johnson, Clemence (Jarosik, 39), Gray; Heskey, Pandiani (Forssell, h-t). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Lazaridis.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Bouma; Milner, Bakke (Djemba-Djemba, 84), Davis, Barry (Berger, 67); Phillips (Angel, 64), Moore. Substitutes not used: S Taylor (gk), Delaney.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Birmingham: Forssell, Johnson; Aston Villa Ridgewell, Mellberg.

Man of the match: Davis.

Attendance: 29,000.