Stung by West Ham's success against West Bromwich at The Hawthorns and inspired by the perpetual motion of Robbie Savage, Birmingham conjured an overdue and deserved win of their own yesterday to re-establish a six-point gap between themselves and the Premiership relegation zone.
Stephen Clemence, Liverpool-born and son of the former Kop hero Ray Clemence, set Birmingham on their way with a first-half header when he outjumped Jamie Carragher at a Savage free-kick to claim his first goal since moving from Tottenham last month.
Clinton Morrison doubled the advantage midway through the second half, sidefooting home to add to his two strikes in the draw between the clubs last September. The goal stemmed from a low cross by Stan Lazaridis, an Australian winger not renowned for the doggedness which defines his cricketing or rugby-playing compatriots. Lazaridis was a man inspired here, however, tackling back à la Savage as well as regularly flying past his full-back.
What Michael Owen would give for such service, but then Liverpool, as everyone knows by now, have an aversion to using the width of the pitch. Owen appeared as a substitute shortly before Birmingham's second goal and went on to halve the arrears by converting a long diagonal pass by Danny Murphy for his 17th of the season, yet even his penetrative running could not redeem a guileless team display.
The outcome fuelled Birmingham's optimism about survival – they entertain each of the bottom three between now and mid-May – as well as ensuring that Liverpool will have to reprise last spring's winning surge to have any hope of pipping Chelsea or Everton for a Champions' League place.
First, though, they face a vital week in two knock-out competitions. On Thursday, Auxerre visit Anfield in the Uefa Cup, while next Sunday brings a collision with Manchester United in the Worthington Cup final. Gérard Houllier must trust his players respond better to the cup-tie atmosphere than they did at St Andrew's, which fairly crackled with excitement.
Birmingham, who had not won at home for nearly three months and came into the match with one point from seven matches, performed to their full potential. Liverpool, who have now won two of the last 16 League fixtures, fell woefully short of theirs. Even with four strikers on the pitch in the closing stages, they seldom threatened to prise a fortuitous point.
Houllier's side were almost caught by a touch of the Tysons as Lazaridis ghosted in at the far post only to head over with 32 seconds on the clock. The ball had been whipped in by Damien Johnson, and throughout the game Savage and his cohorts exploited the space created by the visitors' lack of width.
In the minutes which followed Lazaridis' miss, Liverpool briefly troubled Birmingham. With 10 minutes played, Murphy was about to attack the ball 10 yards from goal when Clemence appeared to take his legs from behind. The referee, Clive Wilkes, erred on the side of leniency towards the home side.
Increasingly, though, Liverpool looked disjointed and jaded. Bruno Cheyrou was such a lost soul in midfield that Houllier summoned him to the dug-out during a break in play, apparently to reiterate his role. Sensing that the opposition was not of the highest calibre, Birmingham began to attack with greater gusto.
Lazaridis was the main beneficiary of Liverpool's narrow midfield. His centre, laid off by Morrison, gave Christophe Dugarry the chance for his first goal in England but he lifted the ball over. Put in by Savage's free-kick, Lazaridis also cut back a low pass which led to Jeff Kenna firing over when well placed.
There was a certain irony about the fact that Dugarry, hitherto all flicks, feints and Gallic shrugs, should have been the first player cautioned. Mr Wilkes adjudged him to have elbowed Djimi Traoré in the face as they jumped together, in which case the Frenchman should have been sent off.
Salif Diao had earlier escaped without a card after cutting down Savage; one wondered whether the decision would have been the same had the Welshman done the fouling. Undaunted, Savage simply got up and gave Liverpool's midfield lessons in desire and distribution. If ignored, their season could be all but over come Sunday evening.
Goals: Clemence (34) 1-0; Morrison (68) 2-0; Owen (77) 2-1.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Vaesen 7; Kenna 6, Cunningham 6, Upson 7, Clapham 7; D Johnson 7, Savage 8, Clemence 7 (Carter, 79), Lazaridis 8; Dugarry 6 (Horsfield, 81), Morrison 7 (Devlin, 88). Substitutes not used: John, Bennett (gk).
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek 6; Carragher 4 (Owen 7, 63), Traoré 5, Hyypia 6, Riise 6; Murphy 6, Diao 4, Hamann 5, Cheyrou 3 (Mellor, 83); Baros 4, Heskey 3. Substitutes not used: Babbel, Biscan, Arphexad (gk).
Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester) 4.
Bookings: Birmingham: Dugarry, Upson. Liverpool: Diao.
Man of the match: Lazaridis.
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