Cometh the hour, cometh the man. At half time, Swansea looked in danger of succumbing to their second cup exit of the season at St Andrew’s but then on came substitute Wilfried Bony to turn the game around. Swansea’s £12.5m record signing was their matchwinner at Old Trafford in the third round and he transformed this contest ensuring his side’s first appearance in the FA Cup fifth round since 2009.
He may have earned mixed reviews in the autumn when he found goals hard to come by, but Bony now has 16 goals in all competitions – six in his last five games – and with Michu still injured, he will have a pivotal role to play in the Welsh club’s fight to retain their place in the top flight when Swansea face Fulham and then West Ham in the next seven days.
“When you have a big price tag on your shoulders the patience is sometimes a little less,” said Swansea manager Michael Laudrup. “I am happy for him but first of all for the team. Hopefully we can build on this result today as on Tuesday we have a very important game in the League.”
For Swansea, the build-up to this fixture was dominated by reports of a training-ground row between Spanish defender Chico Flores and club captain Garry Monk, and more negative headlines appeared imminent after a first half when Birmingham, leading through Lee Novak’s 15th-minute goal, looked poised to repeat their Capital One Cup success over in September.
For Laudrup, a confidence-draining run of eight League games without a win was the source of the problem. His description of them playing “with a frog in the ball” was an unusual metaphor but easy to grasp and his response was to send on Bony in place of Alvaro Vazquez. “I thought the way they played we had to introduce Bony from the start of the second half and it paid off with two great goals,” added Laudrup.
Bony’s threat was soon evident. He had already been foiled by a superb Mitch Hancox tackle and goalkeeper Colin Doyle’s near-post save when he equalised after 67 minutes. Jordi Amat fed Roland Lamah out on the Swansea left and he crossed for Bony to bury a low volley into the corner of Doyle’s goal.
Within two minutes, Bony had his second goal as Swansea caught Birmingham on the counter. Lamah played the ball infield to Alejandro Pozuelo and he helped it on to Bony who did the rest, taking the ball coolly around the goalkeeper before ignoring the defenders in front of him and burying a shot into the roof of the net.
Birmingham manager Lee Clark lamented the Championship team’s defending for the winning goal – “all my midfield and both full-backs were up the pitch and they cut us open” – but rightly found plenty of positives in their first-half display. “We had opportunities and could have been two or three up by half-time, no exaggeration. We had a chance of causing an upset so it’s disappointing.”
Their reward for a purposeful start arrived on the quarter-hour when Paul Caddis delivered an inswinging cross from the right and Novak applied a glancing header to send the ball out of the reach of Gerhard Tremmel.
It was a young Birmingham side with six players aged 22 or under and they denied Swansea time and space with a high-energy approach, summed up by the performance of midfielder Reece Brown. “Outstanding” was Clark’s verdict on the 17-year-old, who signed his first _professional contract on Friday. He was one of several Birmingham players to threaten a second goal with a shot from 20 yards.
Chris Burke beat Flores to a bouncing ball but fired wide with Albert Rusnak well-placed to his left, while Tremmel tipped over a fierce Hancox drive. Even at the start of the second half it took one of several vital Ashley Williams blocks to rescue Swansea after Dwight Tiendalli’s slip let in Shane Ferguson.
Birmingham (4-4-2): Doyle; Caddis, Packwood, Robinson, Hancox; Burke, Lee, Brown, Ferguson (Adeyemi, 74); Rusnak, Novak (Lovenkrands, 81).
Swansea (4-2-3-1): Tremmel; Tiendali, Chico, Williams, Flores, Taylor; Amat, Britton; Hernandez (Bony, h-t), Pozuelo, Lamah; Vazquez (Routledge, 64).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.
Man of the match: Bony (Swansea)
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