Writer: Daniel Bailey
Date:Sunday March 8 2009
Southampton suffered their first defeat in three games as Birmingham kept pace with leaders Wolves after beating Mark Wotte's men 1-0 at St Andrew's on Saturday.
Blues stay second thanks to Keith Fahey's goal right on the stroke of half-time, whilst the Saints remain third bottom as all three teams in the relegation zone failed to win.
Fahey's solitary goal proved to be the difference as Alex McLeish's side recorded successive wins by a single goal in the league following their midweek success against Bristol City.
With Wolves beating Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham stay in touch just three points behind their midland rivals and edge a further two points clear of third-placed Reading.
Saints' Head Coach Mark Wotte named an unchanged team, despite fears that Dutch defender Jan-Paul Saeijs would be unfit to play. Morgan Schneiderlin continued to deputise for the injured Adam Lallana, although the England Under-21 starlet is expected to return to the side as Derby visit St Mary's on Tuesday night.
Alex McLeish also opted to stick with the same side that beat City in midweek. Radhi Jaidi recovered from a knock, while Ulises De la Cruz was named among the substitutes.
It was the visitors who started the brightest, with Marek Saganowski going close early on, but his effort from the edge of the box flew wide of the right-hand post and never looked like troubling Maik Taylor in the Birmingham goal.
After a promising opening 15 minutes from the Saints, Birmingham stepped it up a gear and started to force Wotte's side back into their own half. Franck Queudrue tried his luck from distance, but his shot flew high and wide of Kelvin Davis' goal.
The visitors almost took the lead in the 12th minute from a chance against the run of play. Jason Euell, who kept his place in the side following his brace in the 3-0 win at Ipswich, got on the end of a Simon Gillett corner but his header was cleared off the line by Stephen Carr.
McLeish's side are currently struggling with a number of injuries, and there injury list continued to grow as Marcus Bent had to go off for the home side after picking up a hamstring injury. Carlos Costly replaced the 30-year-old midway through the half.
Despite that setback, the Blues continued to press and they went close once again as Fahey had a header well saved by Southampton 'keeper Davis.
Fahey's persistence paid off, as it was he who broke the deadlock after a strong run by Cameron Jerome. The powerful frontman played a clever ball across the face of goal which found the unmarked Fahey at the back post. The Irish born midfielder then composed himself before firing home to give his side the lead going into the interval.
Just after the break, midfielder Lee Carsley had a chance to double the home side's lead but he curled wide of the left-hand post.
Southampton struggled to create any chances worthy of note, with Birmingham's back four in very impressive form. The visitors were reduced to shooting from distance, with Rudi Skacel and Euell both trying their luck - but to no avail.
Substitute Costly had a chance to seal the points for McLeish's side in the 67th minute, but Davis pulled off a remarkable reaction save to keep the score at 1-0.
Had the Saints won this game, they would have temporarily climbed out of the relegation zone, but as the game wore on it was clear their unbeaten run was coming to an end, with chances proving very hard to come by.
Birmingham then introduced striker Scott Sinclair, and the speedy youngster almost made an immediate impact. The on-loan Chelsea winger went on an excellent run, ghosting past the Saints defence, but he couldn't find the finish as he hit the post in the closing stages.
The Blues comfortably held on for all three points but the win comes at a cost for McLeish, who after watching Bent limp off was also forced to withdraw Jerome because of injury.
As for Southampton, they have to go back to the drawing board ahead of yet another vital match at home to Derby on Tuesday night.
After three wins on the trot, their travelling fans had high expectations going into the game, but Wotte's team never really got going and were disappointing throughout.
The team looked a little jaded and you got the impression that the player's busy fixture schedule was starting to catch-up with them.
Although Saints lost the game 1-0, they were by no means disgraced and despite the lacklustre performance, they still battled away and wore the shirt with pride. If they are to maintain their Championship status this season, they will need to display these characteristics in abundance during the remainder of the season.
Date:Sunday March 8 2009
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|5. Man Utd||25||11||8||6||10||41|
|6. West Ham||25||10||9||6||9||39|
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