Match report: Birmingham City 3 Swansea City 1
SWANSEA City waited 101 years for a major trophy, so to retain their first always looked like being a major ask.
Nevertheless, Michael Laudrup will be annoyed that their defence was not a little stauncher than this.
Swansea’s manager had made it clear in the build-up to their third-round tie at Birmingham City that he wanted to have another serious crack at the Capital One Cup.
His much-changed team ought to have been good enough to see off the Championship strugglers, and they surely would have done had they taken even half of their big opportunities in the first half.
Swansea’s wastefulness in front of goal cost them dear, however, as Birmingham roared into the contest in the second period and upset the odds thanks to goals from Dan Burn, Matt Green and Tom Adeyemi.
Wilfried Bony’s last-minute response offered little consolation for 700 travelling fans.
Laudrup’s men have other, more sizeable fish to fry this season, but even so this setback — and the manner of it — will sting.
This was the battle of the League Cup holders and the winners in 2011.
Yet Birmingham have fallen quite a way since Obafemi Martins’s goal saw Alex McLeish’s Blues side shock Arsenal at Wembley.
Not one of the 18 players in Birmingham’s Wembley squad featured in their squad last night.
Swansea, meantime, included ten men who were in Laudrup’s 18 on their big day under the arch back in February.
There were no fewer than ten changes from the side which started at Crystal Palace last weekend — yet this was a still a strong-looking Swansea line-up which featured six full internationals.
Garry Monk led the visitors out as he made his first appearance since the win at Wigan in early May.
And Swansea’s club skipper enjoyed a fairly gentle introduction as Laudrup’s team began the game on the front foot.
Unlike their last three games, however, there was no early goal for Swansea.
They passed the ball around neatly, Leon Britton and Jonathan de Guzman making their team tick and Alejandro Pozuelo looking bright when possession came his way.
Yet Birmingham’s three-man defence worked hard from the off, closing down space and snuffing out attacks whenever Swansea threatened the final third in the early stages.
For all the Championship club’s efforts, there was a major scare when de Guzman’s corner reached Bony and his header came back off the bar.
The rebound dropped to Pozuelo, who smashed a half-volley goalwards only for the woodwork to save Birmingham for the second time in as many seconds.
Not much was troubling Gerhard Tremmel at the other end, though the big German gave Monk a pat on the back when he headed Chris Burke’s dangerous centre clear as Green lurked with intent at the far post.
As the contest wore on, Swansea looked more and more menacing.
But not for the first time, their control on the pitch was not reflected on the scoreboard.
The opening goal seemed a certainty on the half hour when Roland Lamah did well down the right flank and pulled back for Bony, but his fierce close-range drive was repelled by Blues goalkeeper Colin Doyle.
Suddenly the chances began to flow for Swansea, Bony curling just wide of the far post after a good ball from Pozuelo.
The little Spaniard produced another sweet pass a couple of minutes later, but this time Bony was denied by Paul Robinson’s excellent recovery challenge.
Given space once again by the home side, Pozuelo sent Lamah in behind. The Belgian winger had only the keeper to beat, but his shot was kicked away by Doyle.
Swansea were dominant by this stage — but turned round level because they could not apply a finishing touch.
And from the restart, the flow of the contest changed.
Swansea survived a penalty appeal when Pozuelo tangled with Mitch Hancox, then Monk’s loopy back-pass dropped for Green.
Tremmel saved the day, blocking Green’s shot with the part of the body where it really hurts.
But the Swansea keeper was beaten 11 minutes into the second period when Birmingham pumped a long ball into the box and his defenders could not clear.
Former Cardiff man Burke kept the ball alive in the box, then fed Paul Caddis to centre.
Burn is 6ft 6in tall, yet no Swansea defender noticed him hovering near the penalty spot and the on-loan Fulham youngster beat Tremmel with a fine header.
And before Swansea could even try to muster a response, Birmingham had doubled their advantage.
Suddenly Lee Clark’s team were finding gaps in the Swansea half, and Tremmel was left exposed again when Hancox escaped down the left flank.
His low cross raced across the face — and one-time Cardiff player Green tapped in at the far post to send the sparse home crowd into raptures.
Burke might have given them more to celebrate but scuffed a shot wide, then Laudrup sent on Alvaro Vazquez as Swansea attempted to mount a comeback.
Pozuelo continued to look like the man most likely to make something happen, and Swansea would have had a fighting chance had his 71st-minute long-ranger not been pushed round the post by Doyle.
Any slim hopes of a revival were killed off nine minutes from the end when substitute Jose Canas’s underhit pass put Jordi Amat into trouble.
The ball ricocheted to Burke and, as Tremmel raced off his line, he squared for Adeyemi to roll the ball home.
Birmingham’s fans crowed about it being 3-0 to the Championship, and Swansea could find no answer after letting earlier opportunities slip by.
They did find the target right at the death, Bony heading home from Wayne Routledge’s corner.
Understandably, however, Swansea celebrations were non-existent.