Tony Pulis finally shed his frown but only after watching his Stoke team enjoy a night free of contentious moments. They did manage to squander a two-goal lead, instead, though before Dean Whitehead scored his first Premier League goal for 85 games with five minutes left to secure the club's first points in more than a month.
Ricardo Fuller marked his first start since the second week of the season by playing a part in all three goals, the first scored by Robert Huth, the second a cracker from his own left foot.
But Birmingham hit back with two in two minutes before Whitehead had the last word, poking home his first top-flight goal since April 2008 after Matthew Etherington's low cross had deflected to him off Scott Dann.
Stoke manager Pulis feels his team are consistently dealt rough justice by the law enforcers on the field, and the irony of Mark Clattenburg's appointment last night – his first appearance since allowing Nani's controversial goal for Manchester United against Tottenham last month – was not lost on him.
But he clearly accepts that four Premier League defeats in a row cannot be blamed entirely on bad decisions and the line-up he put out was shaped to revert to what Stoke do best.
Marc Wilson, Jon Walters and Tuncay Sanli were all jettisoned. Back came Fuller, fully recovered now from a dislocated shoulder, as well as Rory Delap, recalled after a three-game absence as the long throw came back into play, and Birmingham found themselves subjected to a ferocious first-half bombardment from which they were lucky to escape only a goal down. Alex McLeish was disappointed that Birmingham's comeback (Fahey volleyed past Begovic after picking up Danny Higginbotham's sliced clearance before Jerome glanced home a header from Seb Larsson's cross) came to naught. "It was a brilliant comeback but losing to a soft goal made it bittersweet," McLeish said.
Pulis's relief was palpable. "I thought we'd blown it but my lads are very resilient and never give up," he said. "We needed that win."
Stoke City (4-4-2): Begovic; Huth, Faye, Higginbotham, Collins; Pennant (Whelan, 72), Delap, Whitehead, Etherington (Wilson, 90); Jones, Fuller (Walters, 90). Substitutes not used Sorensen (gk), Gudjohnsen, Tuncay, Wilkinson.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Foster; Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Gardner, Beausejour (Fahey, 60); Jerome, Zigic. Substitutes not used Doyle (gk), Bowyer, Phillips, Derbyshire, Parnaby, Hleb.
Referee M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear)
Man of the match Fuller
Match rating 7/10