THREE shining lights pierced the St Andrews gloom for Gary Megson on Saturday.
They shone from Liam Palmer, Reda Johnson and the Wednesday fans.
Palmer, only 19, never looked out of place in midfield against a Premier League side after going on as a half-time sub.
Johnson was the back-four star as the Owls struggled in vain to avoid a predictable FA Cup defeat.
The 4,200 away supporters backed their team noisily from start to finish and applauded them at the end for showing spirit and endeavour.
“The thing we’ve got going for us is a terrific stadium and supporters who in my view are the best in the country,” said the manager, still disturbed by the team’s run of form.
“The support is incredible, humbling. We have to give them a lot more. If we can show half as much desire as they show, we’ll be okay.
“Liam Palmer looked comfortable and did really well. He will play, though it’s not something you really want, chucking a young kid into the position we’re in.
“He didn’t look like a 19-year-old; he looked like one of the senior players.
“Reda Johnson ... when I saw him against MK Dons [Megson’s first game in charge], he looked an absolute bomb scare. This time he looked a Premier League player, strong and quick; he looked decent on the ball and is getting better and better.”
There were other plaudits from Megson, for sub defender Mark Beevers, for example: “He did okay in terms of his challenges ; he can do a lot more; all of our players can do so much more on the ball.”
Richard Hinds, another who got a chance from the bench, “did well”, thought the boss.
But the fact that a first substitution was made after only 28 minutes reflected the defensive flaws that continued to handicap the club.
They were one down in the sixth minute and two down in the 18th, to top-flight opposition, which raised the fear that they could end up suffering an embarrassing result.
But Wednesday, with some tinkering by Megson and the effort from the players, did keep it respectable, and by giving it everything to the end earned recognition from fans.
The first two goals, however, were disastrous.
James O’Connor’s high ball out to left-back Mark Reynolds was not the best; Reynolds was weak in a challenge on striker Obafemi Martins, then sliced the ball to an opponent. Blues broke down the left with no-one getting tight on Alexander Hleb, whose pass made the most of a forward run by Lee Bowyer.
Michael Morrison failed to prevent Bowyer from crossing from the byline, and right winger Jean Beausejour, who probably should have been marked by Reynolds, was in yards of space in the box as he shot home.
For the second goal, Hleb played a through pass to Martins; Morrison could have fairly taken ball and man but was too tentative, missed the ball and saw Martins run away to score.
Megson waited only 10 more minutes before taking off Reynolds, switching Tommy Spurr to left-back and sending on Hinds at right-back, for only his second appearance of the season.
Birmingham could have had more in the first half but the Owls, also aided by a couple of saves from Nicky Weaver, had half chances when a cross from Daniel Jones - who played on the left side of midfield - ran all the way across goal, and when a Neil Mellor shot was deflected by a lunge from Roger Johnson.
Megson used the latter incident to make a point: “Johnson throws himself at the ball to keep it out and they’ve got a cup final next week and they’re 2-0 up. We’re not doing the same thing when it’s 0-0.
“Against a Premier League team we’ve started okay; you accept the quality might not be the same, but the deter-
mination, workrate, desire, commitment and attitude shouldn’t be any different
“We were 2-0 down in a game where we started well. It was Keystone Kops. We started okay but we sold the jersey. It’s not the first time it’s happened.
“We’re trying to get players in who don’t do this kind of thing.
“The players have a fantastic opportunity but they’re not taking it, and it’s really frustrating.”
At half-time he changed the back four again. Michael Morrison was taken off, Johnson moved to right-side centre-half, and Beevers was given his old spot on the left. Palmer took over from O’Connor in midfield.
Wednesday made a fist of it in the second half and I thought they were unlucky with the third goal. 99 times out of 100 any sort of challenge on a keeper results in a free-kick.
From a corner, Bowyer’s shoulder seemed to make contact with Weaver a split second before the ball arrived; the keeper couldn’t hold it, and it bounced to left back David Murphy, who scored.
The Owls never gave up and might have had a consolation goal: Reda Johnson missed with a header; so did Neil Mellor and Clinton Morrison near the end.
But Blues’ two early goals set the tone of the game and on the whole it was a fairly comfortable exercise for players trying to earn places in next Sunday’s Carling Cup Final against Arsenal,
We were terrific for the first six minutes. Yet again when the opposition have their first attack they score.
Awful probably doesn’t describe it adequately, the simplicity of the first goal. It shouldn’t happen like that.
The second goal was even worse. You should never see a challenge that’s got to be won by a centre-half being won by a centre-forward.
I shouldn’t be in a position where I have to change the back four so early.
Our people have to accept there’s a responsibility to defend with a lot more passion and commitment than they showed.