Zigic makes giant leap to acceptance with late winner

Birmingham City 1 Stoke City 0
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The Independent Football

Birmingham fans hoped to see the explosively talented Obafemi Martins help their side overcome their aversion to scoring goals yet for the second time in a week it was their much-derided summer signing Nikola Zigic whocame up with the winning contribution.

The 6ft 6in Serb, whose skimpy goals record so far must have added permanency to furrows in Alex McLeish's brow, came up with a second-half deadlock-breaker at West Ham last Sunday and did the trick again as Birmingham achieved back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time in 14 months.

Given that he had not played for two months before completing his loan signing from the Russian champions Rubin Kazan, Martins competed gamely enough against the physical challenges Stoke invariably put in a striker's way. It will not be long before he begins to make an impact.

Certainly not as long as Zigic has taken. McLeish's£6 million buy from Valencia has struggled to adapt not only to the frantic pace of English football but to the first requirement of a striker of his height that he be good in the air. The Birmingham manager knows he must do more in that respect, but feels he is at last making progress.

"In the League he came from he was used to playing the ball on the ground and most of his goals have been scored with his feet," McLeish said. "I've kept telling him he needed to be more aggressive and in the second half today I thoughthe was."

The decisive moment could not have come much later – three minutes into stoppage time. Stoke, for whom the absence of an injured Matthew Etherington robbed them of natural width, thought they had done enough for a point. But when Asmir Begovic spilled a shot from David Bentley at his near post, the Birmingham substitute, Cameron Jerome, touched the ball away from him and hooked it back into the six-yard box, where Zigic nodded home. It was only his seventh for the club, but his third in as many games.

Otherwise, the reputation St Andrew's has acquired as the least entertaining ground in the Premier League would have been preserved. The stadium had witnessed only 25 goals this season, fewer than any other venue, and Zigic's goal rescued this game from the fate it deserved after 90 uninspiring minutes on a sticky, bumpy pitch.

Chances were few, mistakes many. McLeish and Tony Pulis, his opposite number, took turns shaking their heads or throwing their arms towards the sky. But, as McLeish regularly points out, goals change games and Birmingham are three points clear of the bottom three.

Attendance: 23,660

Referee: Mark Halsey

Man of the match: Ferguson