If ever there was a case of before the Lord Mayor's show, this was it. Birmingham, who will today parade their first piece of national silverware in almost half a century before a civic reception at St Andrew's, were booed off by their supporters after an abject display against a West Bromwich Albion side now unbeaten in three matches under new head coach Roy Hodgson.
The Carling Cup winners had lost two out of 28 home fixtures until Newcastle United beat them last month. Albion made it two in as many matches, scoring immediately after half-time through Youssouf Mulumbu and recovering from an instant equaliser by Jean Beausejour to coast home with further goals from James Morrison and Paul Scharner. The result took Hodgson's new charges above Birmingham, whose slide into the bottom three prompted Alex McLeish to question the viability of clubs with a "small squad" such as his making inroads in the cups.
"Maybe we have to make a decision every year whether it's better to get knocked out of these competitions or have a glorious day out like we had last Sunday," the Birmingham manager said. "The FA Cup (in which they host Bolton next Saturday) could be a burden, but how can you try and tell players not to get through? I'm sure they would like to get to Wembley again. I'd prefer to stay in the Premier League."
McLeish called the result "a kick in the teeth" and bemoaned a "second-rate performance". There were, however, mitigating circumstances for the anti-climactic showing, injuries having deprived them of five of the line-up that stunned Arsenal. One who did start, Liam Ridgewell, did so only after an injection after hurting a groin during the warm-up.
Hodgson, having presided over an away victory for only the second time in 29 matches with Fulham, Liverpool and Albion, hoped the club's second-ever Premier League double meant they had "turned some sort of corner". Resisting the suggestion that their upturn in form had stemmed from his appointment in place of Roberto Di Matteo, he added: "You go into a club to do a job, but it's all about players."
Considering it was not only a relegation battle but also a derby, the first half was so flat that one wondered whether Pancake Day had come early. Hodgson clearly felt that the impasse was there to be broken, withdrawing the ineffectual Marc-Antoine Fortuné in favour of Peter Odemwingie and transforming the contest. Within two minutes of the restart, Odemwingie had a shot charged down yet still managed to pick out the supporting run of Mulumbu, who poked the ball past Ben Foster from 10 yards. It was a chastening moment for the England keeper, whose mis-cued clearance, followed by poor control from Keith Fahey, had invited the Albion attack.
Within 80 seconds, Birmingham were level. Stephen Carr released Lee Bowyer down the right, and his low cross was converted by Beausejour. Bowyer was soon cautioned for an innocuous foul on Mulumbu, making him the first man to 100 bookings in the Premier League, and worse, much worse, was to follow for Birmingham.
Shortly before the hour, Steven Reid surged forward before channelling a pass to Morrison on the edge of the Birmingham 18-yard box. Flicking the ball up with his right foot, the Scot nonchalantly evaded Curtis Davies' challenge and volleyed brutally beyond Foster.
Albion may have feared they would live to rue Odemwingie's lack of composure when he blazed an open goal after Chris Brunt's shot beat Foster and rebounded into the Nigerian's path. They need not have worried. A short-corner routine between Brunt and Morrison led to the latter being unchallenged as he crossed to the far post where the impressive Scharner, also in regal isolation, headed in from an acute angle.
David Bentley, who was stationed by the post when the flag-kick was taken, had mysteriously deserted it by the time the ball crept in. Nothing seemed to sum up Birmingham's day better than the catalogue of errors.
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: Scharner