ESPN’s feature match in America looked wearisome and sloppy after 45 minutes. West Bromwich responded though, by wresting the match away from a Birmingham City side that looked wistful at times.
There were several changes for the Blues from the Carling Cup winning eleven. McLeish did lead off with the 4-4-2 formation that yielded the winning goal. A worn Nicola Zigic was sat for Cameron Jerome, who partnered with Sunday’s Johnny-on-the-spot, Obafemi Martins. Jean Beausejour replaced Sebastian Larsson as an inside wing midfielder, while David Bentley played the left. Keith Fahey moved to a holding midfield role vacated by ailing Barry Ferguson. Finally, Martin Jiranek was also injured, so Curtis Davies started his first game in 2011 for Birmingham.
Roy Hodgson, looking to save another Premier League side from relegation, selected five midfielders and a single striker for West Brom, Marc-Antoine Fortune. James Morrison played as the attacking midfielder, in the hole behind Fortune, but the Baggies were interested in defensive security rather than a piercing attack.
The first half was drab. Much of the reason was due to a low-tempo, horizontal mindset for both teams. Advancement into the attacking half usually ended up in a conceded possession to an awaiting opponent. Both teams had intentions to play over the congested midfield. but neither Jerome nor Fortune were effective in corralling the long passes. Neither side generated many chances, the best coming off a run by Jerome Thomas. The midfielder balked at taking a shot while in space. His run was cut off by a defender, causing him to pass to Chris Brunt who shot wide.
My expectation at halftime was to see the home Blues become the more positive side. I thought that Hodgson would be happy with a defensive 0-0 draw. The reality was that Fortune had been pathetic in the first half, not really showing the pace and work rate to create space and burgeon the attack. A change in striker wouldn’t affect their defensive mindset. Thus Hodgson made a simple switch, Fortune out and Peter Odemwingie in.
Whether it was his pace advantage over Fortune, or simply a strong desire to regain the role of first-choice striker, he brought something that the Frenchman had lacked: an ability to challenge Birmingham’s central defense. The attention he drew left Mulumbu wide open in on goal less than 2 minutes after halftime, and he chipped the ball over Ben Foster to open the scoring. In the process, Mulumbu was scuffed and needed medical attention. The briefly shorthanded Baggies conceded the equalizer to Beausejour. But the Baggies took control in the 58th minute after Steven Reid was allowed to run in space towards the Brum area. As he approached, he passed to Morrison, who eluded a Davies challenge and solved Foster with a high shot that swerved away from the keeper.
At that point, Brum looked both tired and disinterested. McLeish tried to reorganize the Blues into an attacking 4-3-3 formation, Kevin Phillips for Beausejour. The result was undesirable, a set piece goal for West Brom. The Blues were slow to retreat after ceding a corner. Brunt quickly took the corner, passing short to Morrison. He crossed to the far post, where Scharner headed the ball at a tight angle just over the goal line past an out-of-control Foster.
Ian Darke and Steve McManaman made much of the way Brum managed the jubilation over the team’s second League Cup. The truth is, Birmingham City has looked unimaginative for most of the season. The ambition they showed in the Final gave supporters hope, but their victory resulted from an opportunistic seizure of the moment. Credit West Bromwich for reacting to the opposition’s stolid performance, and striving for those three points rather than cynically accepting the single.