Sorensen calamity preserves derby's goalkeeping curse

Birmingham City 2 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Online

The curse of the Scandinavian goalkeeper struck Aston Villa again at St Andrews. Two seasons ago, in the first Birmingham derby of the modern era, it was Finland's Peter Enckelman who erred calamitously to hand victory to Birmingham City. Similar embarrassment befell Denmark's Thomas Sorensen yesterday as he laid the breakthrough goal on a plate for Emile Heskey.

The curse of the Scandinavian goalkeeper struck Aston Villa again at St Andrews. Two seasons ago, in the first Birmingham derby of the modern era, it was Finland's Peter Enckelman who erred calamitously to hand victory to Birmingham City. Similar embarrassment befell Denmark's Thomas Sorensen yesterday as he laid the breakthrough goal on a plate for Emile Heskey.

Julian Gray doubled the margin of Birmingham's fourth win in six unbeaten matches against Villa with a late goal which again owed much to the visitors' generosity, yet it was Sorensen's haplessness that changed the course of what had been an attritional stalemate. Eight minutes into the second half, after a misunderstanding between Olof Mellberg and Martin Laursen, he allowed Heskey's less-than-ferocious angled shot to squirm beneath his body by the near post.

Just as Enckelman failed to control the ball from a throw-in by Mellberg when Premiership hostilities commenced in 2002, and then spilled a simple catch to let Geoff Horsfield score in the return fixture, so Sorensen's latest mistake was comparable to the one he made when Clinton Morrison's drive bounced over him in December. "Birmingham must love playing us," complained the Villa manager, David O'Leary, "because we keep gifting them goals."

Birmingham's fans certainly loved it. One song after another celebrated Sorensen's blunder, including a pointed chorus of "Enckelman is better than you." O'Leary declined to criticise the former Sunderland custodian. "Goalkeepers do make mistakes, with the possible exception of Petr Cech," he said. "You just hope they're not punished. The ones he has made have cost us big-style. You can't legislate for them."

Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, laughed off O'Leary's claim that the League table proves Villa are the better side. He began his assessment of the game's turning point by giving credit to Heskey, arguing that "there are the Owens and the Rooneys, but they would love to play alongside Emile. He's an awkward big lump, but a skilful one."

Bruce saw the respective keepers' displays as crucial to the outcome. Shortly before half-time, Birmingham's Maik Taylor dived to tip a free-kick by Nolberto Solano on to a post - proof, to O'Leary, that Villa "simply aren't getting the breaks in these games".

Both managers played down allegations of a post-match altercation. After the final whistle, the referee and stewards prised apart Mario Melchiot and Lee Hendrie, the Villa midfielder apparently having taken aggressive exception to the Dutchman performing his party pieces on the ball in the closing minutes. The feud was reported to have escalated as they made their way to the dressing-rooms, but the referee, Mike Riley, said his report would not mention any such incident.

O'Leary was right about one thing. The spectacle was indeed "poor". Birmingham, condemned for Bruce for their feeble defeat in their previous derby, at West Bromwich a fortnight earlier, were clearly keen to atone. They had the better of the exchanges until Taylor kept out Solano's set-piece and Melchiot cleared the rebound as Laursen lunged.

Heskey's eighth goal of the season altered the mood of the match completely. O'Leary, who had used a raw 19-year-old, Luke Moore, as a lone striker with predictable results, sent on Darius Vassell and Carlton Cole. But still the chances would not come for Villa, despite their increasing territorial dominance. In a contrast which typified the contest, the success which eases Birmingham's fears of being sucked into a relegation struggle was sealed by two of Bruce's substitutes.

Morrison's first involvement was to pressure Mellberg into a weak clearance, the ball thudding into Laursen's thigh and landing obligingly for Gray. The former Crystal Palace winger ran on before stroking his second goal of the campaign past a now thoroughly disconsolate Sorsensen.

Goals: Heskey (53) 1-0; Gray (89) 2-0.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham; Johnson, Carter, Clemence (Nafti, 76), Lazaridis (Gray, 80); Heskey, Pandiani (Morrison, 84). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Blake.

Aston Villa (4-1-4-1): Sorensen; De La Cruz, Mellberg, Laursen, Samuel (Hitzlsperger, 72); Berson (Vassell, 60); Solano, Davis, Hendrie, Barry; L Moore (Cole, 60). Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Ridgewell.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Birmingham: Melchiot, Upson, Johnson. Villa: Berson, Laursen, Hendrie.

Man of the match: Heskey.

Attendance: 29,297.

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