Scharner gives Albion fighting chance

Birmingham 1 West Bromwich Albion 3
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The Independent Football

Paul Scharner has often stood out in English football, from being punched in the stomach by Duncan Ferguson to scoring Wigan's goal in a 9-1 rout at Tottenham and his dyed Mohawk. This, however, was a good hair day for the West Bromwich midfielder.

The day Roy Hodgson was unveiled as Albion's head coach, Scharner's weak aerial challenge led to West Ham's first goal as they came from 3-0 down to parity. Another day, another header: this one sealed the win which took them above Birmingham and left the Carling Cup winners in the relegation zone.

The Austrian was in central defence when Hodgson arrived but has been moved to the engine room in an attempt to ally steel to Albion's silk.

"Scharner's a battler and it's time for battlers at West Brom," the former Liverpool manager said, confirming a shift from spontaneity toward structure. "I've always seen him as a central midfielder because that's where I first saw him play for Brann Bergen when I worked in Norway.

"He's the type who could play in any position, because of his characteristics. But I prefer specialist centre-backs, and Abdoulaye Meite and Jonas Olsson offer that."

Hodgson suggested there was "lots more work to do on the team's shape", but already it bears his stamp. In the closing stages – by which time Albion had shrugged off Jean Beausejour's riposte to a Mulumbu strike by adding goals from James Morrison and Scharner – seven of the outfield players were nominally defensive.

Fitness concerns deprived Birmingham of five Wembley winners, and they badly missed Barry Ferguson's ball-retention and distribution. Manager Alex McLeish likened his influence to Cesc Fabregas's but hinted that his compatriot, who has a cracked rib, might face Everton on Wednesday with the help of an injection.

"It was a fantastic week for us but it raises the perennial question: do the cups tax small clubs and small squads too much?" McLeish said. "On this evidence they do."

Next Saturday, Birmingham host Bolton Wanderers with another Wembley date, in the FA Cup semi-finals, at stake. Will McLeish pick different teams for Everton and Bolton? "Yes." So would the Cup just have to take its chances? "Yes," he said, biting his lip. "I think so."



Scorers: Birmingham Beausejour 48. West Brom Mulumbu 47, Morrison 58, Scharner 72.

Subs: Birmingham Phillips 4 (Beausejour, 67), Murphy (Ridgewell, 80). West Brom Odem-wingie 7 (Fortune, h-t), Jara 5 (Thomas, 66), Tamas (Morrison, 77). Booked: Birmingham Ridgewell, Bowyer, Fahey. West Brom Scharner.

Man of the match Scharner. Match rating 5/10.

Possession Birmingham 53% West Brom 47%.

Attempts on target Birmingham 4 West Brom 5.

Referee M Jones (Cheshire). Att 27,013.



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