Birmingham started well enough, with the pacy Liverpool loanee Jordan Ibe causing problems down our right side, and there was one alarming moment when Camp almost fumbled a routine effort from Caddis into the goal but was saved by the post. Then in the thirteenth minute, with Ibe off changing his boot and Birmingham briefly down to ten men, Harte broke down the left and found Grabban, who picked out Ritchie to score with neatly executed low volley.
That set the pattern, with Bournemouth controlling possession and Birmingham struggling to stem the flow of attacks. After 20 minutes it was 2-0, another break down the left, this time from Pugh, who cut inside and played the ball across goal, with the keeper parrying to the unmarked Grabban for a tap-in. Grabban’s eighteenth of the season, and it was soon nineteen. Kermorgant won possession and played in Grabban, who was brought down by a rash challenge from Birmingham ‘keeper Randolph. The striker was angling away from goal, which was enough to keep Randolph on the pitch, but he had no chance as Grabban smashed the penalty into the top corner for 3-0.
Lee Clark, his employment prospects receding with every goal, brought on the useful Manchester United loanee Macheda for Shinnie, but it was mostly one-way traffic until just before half-time, when the largely unemployed Camp showed he was still paying attention with a brilliant tip-over when Robinson powered in a header from a corner that was going just under the bar. There was some booing for the home team at the interval, but fairly restrained in the circumstances.
We started the second half thinking that a fourth would be nice so that we would really relax, and Harte soon obliged with the best goal of the game, curled into the top corner from a wide on the edge of the area. A few home fans started heading for the exits. Unfortunately the team relaxed a little as well as the fans, and for while it seemed that Birmingham might be allowed an unlikely path back into the game
Birmingham replaced the comically ineffective Zigic with Novak and began to look rather more mobile in attack, helped by our taking the foot off the gas somewhat with the game virtually won. Macheda pulled a goal back almost immediately with a well placed low shot, and for a period Birmingham started to penetrate the centre of our midfield with surprising regularity, eventually bringing about a second goal from Macheda in the 73rd minute with another low drive. Howe had seen enough and replaced Kermorgant with Surman to plug the holes in midfield by going 4-5-1. This did the trick and there was only one more near thing from Birmingham.
Grabban had a great chance to make it five and record a hat-trick, but Randolph made a good save as the striker tried to squeeze the ball past him from a narrow angle. The referee somehow found six minutes of added time, but 60 probably wouldn’t have been enough for Birmingham to rescue this game.
As weaknesses go, losing a bit of defensive concentration when you’re already four – nil up isn’t such a bad one to have, and the progress from receiving a few hammerings earlier in the season to dishing a few out now has been truly impressive. We’d need to win virtually all our remaining games to make the play-offs, but on current form that isn’t quite as far-fetched as it once would have seemed.
Matt Ritchie – well-taken goal, several other shots that didn’t miss by much, huge effort to close down opponents when not in possession.
AFCB: Camp, Francis, Elphick, Cook, Harte, Ritchie, O'Kane, Arter, Pugh, Kermorgant, Grabban
Subs: Allsop, Smith, Pitman, Rantie, Fraser (for Pugh, 70 mins), Surman (for Kermorgant, 78 mins), Ward (for Arter, 93)
Richie Barker, Leyton