Blues extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches after a 3-1 victory at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
It was the visitors who took the lead through Steven Fletcher’s close range finish but Connor Mahoney’s wonderful solo effort ensured the sides went in level at the break.
Blues’ improved second half display was rewarded with two goals in the final ten minutes, Lukas Jutkiewicz heading home Jota’s cross before Kristian Pedersen found Che Adams who slotted home confidently.
The win was Blues’ fourth straight victory and stretched our unbeaten run at home to 13.
The opening 25 minutes of the first half were an unmitigated disaster for Blues who were fortunate not to be more than one goal down.
It was defensively that Blues were struggling, the lack of intensity matched by an indecision on what to do with the giant Kosovian Adthe Nuhui, ex-Wolves striker Steven Fletcher and former Villa man Barry Bannan. Nobody got tight to any of them and the trio ran riot, Fletcher hitting the post after just two minutes as Blues backed off.
Mahoney saw his shot deflected wide against the run of play but it was Wednesday who took the lead and deservedly so. Tom Lees won the first header and Morgan Fox was left free at the back post to put the ball back into the danger area where Fletcher was on hand to rifle the ball home.
Adams wasted an opportunity to reply but Wednesday were very much on top and Blues had to be thankful that Liam Palmer didn’t have his shooting boots on. The right-back fired wide following a 40 yard run then somehow struck over the bar despite Nuhui, Fletcher and Reach all easily getting the better of Blues defenders.
Blues did finally get into the game around the half hour mark and set-pieces were proving a viable option towards goal. Gary Gardner knew little about his first attempt that Cameron Dawson saved well but ought to have hit the target with a free header from the resulting corner. Marc Roberts also tried his luck only to see his effort trickle wide of the post.
Then up stepped Connor Mahoney. The youngster was looking a threat but much of the game was passing him by. He needed a confidence boost and found it beautifully.
Jutkiewicz typically won the aerial duel from a long kick and with Wednesday defenders backing off, Adams laid the ball off and ran towards the middle, taking Hector with him. That left Mahoney up against Lees and the winger fancied his chances, driving inside of the opposition captain and striking a wonderful effort that left Dawson with no chance.
The second half started as the first ended, Blues very much in the ascendancy, snapping into challenges and not allowing Wednesday a foothold in proceedings.
Adams was now alive and having seen his grass-cutter almost fool Dawson, he was involved in a goalmouth scramble that somehow didn’t end in a Blues goal, Gardner then Adams denied by Wednesday blocks.
The visitors stepped it up for a period and the game opened up as a result, Palmer and Joel Pelupessy striking wide of the target, Kieftenbeld rifling an effort just over the bar from 30 yards and Lee Camp being forced into stops from Josh Onomah and Fletcher.
The decision to bring Wes Harding on for Connor Mahoney appeared a strange one but it gave Blues more balance defensively, Pedersen helping to stifle Reach and Palmer while Wednesday substitutes Matt Penney and Lucas Joao made minimal impact.
Blues found themselves on top and were once again rewarded for a strong finish to a half. Colin and Gardner combined to win the ball and find Jota who knew he had the beating of Bannan. He took the ball onto his right side and delivered a tempting cross that Jutkiewicz wanted far more than Lees, leaning over the Wednesday centre-half to power home past Dawson.
Blues were forced to ride the storm for a couple of minutes then showed their ruthless side to put the game to bed. Jota found Jutkiewicz whose cross was deflected to the edge of the area. Pedersen wanted it more and after winning the first ball, he cutely found Adams who was onside and sharp with his finish. Game, set and match.
It could have been the cold, it could have been the increase in expectation, it could have been something else, but the ground felt strangely flat upon entry. Whatever the reason, it felt as if nobody fancied it and the players performed similarly, a lacklustre opening that left many wondering if our long unbeaten run was finally coming to its end.
Blues showed far too much respect in the opening stages and it needed Gary Gardner and Maikel Kieftenbeld to turn that around, snapping into challenges and ensuring that Wednesday couldn’t have things all their own way.
Blues’ intensity and tempo grew and from that point, Wednesday’s reliance on their technically able footballers wasn’t enough. Blues were too organised, too aggressive and all of a sudden creating chances. Wednesday wanted to play their game but weren’t allowed too.
In the second half, that was more evident than ever. Nuhui was all of a sudden in a physical battle, Fletcher wasn’t involved and Bannan was growing more frustrated with the lack of options and movement ahead of him. Reach was given one opportunity from distance that was quickly closed down and Onomah did very little.
Blues’ positivity and organisation allowed Jota more freedom to start playing, it gave Mahoney the space to start running while Lukas Jutkiewicz and Che Adams began getting the better of Tom Lees and Michael Hector. The spaces started to open, set-pieces were threatening and even when Wednesday had spells on top, Blues always looked the more dangerous side.
Mahoney’s wonderstrike was a huge confidence boost for the youngster and for Blues in a game that threatened to be a damp squib. The goals from Jutkiewicz and Adams in the second half were reward for an intelligent display that saw Blues right their wrongs and kick on.
It’s impossible to be too hard on this side. Their faults are often honest and they do extremely well to rectify them. The results just go to show how much hard work goes into the preparation and organisation of this group.
Man of the match: Maikel Kieftenbeld
During an uninspiring first half, it was Kieftenbeld who started setting the tone, snapping into the challenges, playing the ball early and others followed.