Alex McLeish’s return to St Andrews ended in misery on Saturday as Nottingham Forest’s January transfer-target Chris Burke hit a brace for Birmingham as the Blues sealed a 2-1 victory.
Talented England goalkeeper Jack Butland put in a fine performance, making a host of saves to deny the Reds a goal in what was a positive start from the City Ground side.
However, it was Scottish winger Burke who settled the game with two strikes either side of half-time to give Lee Clark’s men a valuable win.
Reds’ frontman Billy Sharp scored from the spot in the dying moments but it proved to be nothing more than a consolation as the visitors slipped to defeat, leaving them 11th in the Championship table.
Forest’s new signing Darius Henderson was given his first start for the Reds alongside Sharp in attack and the striker got straight into the action – linking-up with Chris Cohen and Sharp before Cohen forced Butland into an early save.
At the other end of the pitch Burke began showing why he was such a hot prospect throughout the January transfer window as the winger did well to beat Dan Harding before his cross was cut out well by Reds’ defender Danny Collins.
Former Forest striker Marlon King was on the field for the Blues and had their first real chance when Bournemouth loanee Wes Thomas found the well-travelled frontman unmarked – however King’s volley was blocked well by Greg Halford.
It was end-to-end football and Henderson soon manufactured a chance for his strike partner Sharp, finding the striker in space on the right. However, the Southampton loanee’s effort sailed just over the crossbar.
Forest shot-stopper Karl Darlow was soon called into action in the Reds’ goal – thwarting two chances from the Blues. The first a Curtis Davies’ header which was turned around the foot of the post before the keeper got a foot to a low drive from King.
Andy Reid was looking sharp for McLeish’s men down the left-wing and the veteran midfielder delivered a searching cross for Sharp soon after – the former Sheffield United striker flashing a header just inches wide of the target.
And before the break Forest were prevented from taking the lead when Butland denied Halford from close range following a Reid free-kick before the Irish midfielder had an effort on goal of his own – striking into the keeper’s arms from 25-yards.
However, it was Birmingham who broke the deadlock against the run of play. Burke cutting in from the right-wing before unleashing a dipping effort that found the back of the net courtesy of the underside of the bar, giving the Blues a half-time lead.
After the interval the Reds had a chance to get straight back into the game – former Portsmouth defender Halford heading over from a Reid corner with Butland looking beaten in the Birmingham goal.
Yet, it was evident that the goal at the end of the first period had motivated the home side and they immediately went in search of a second - King finding himself room to dart into the box and fire an angled shot a few feet wide of the far post.
And, at the other end, just before the hour-mark the Reds came close to levelling the scores – Collins’ free-kick was nodded down by the lofty figure of Henderson to find Sharp whose tame shot on goal was easily collected by Butland.
Cohen also had a chance to level matters for the away side as Forest began to pile the pressure on Clark’s men in search of an equaliser. Harding laying the ball off for Cohen who produced a good save from Butland.
But it was Birmingham who scored again, as substitute Nathan Redmond lost Gonzalo Jara before slotting the ball toward the far post where Burke was on hand to tap home - grabbing his second goal of the day to double the Blues’ advantage.
In the closing stages Sharp was denied again by Butland - but the striker did earn the Reds a consolation in stoppage-time - scoring from the spot after being fouled by Davies. However, Birmingham held on to win the match.
The Reds are now 11th in the Championship table and are six points adrift of the play-off positions. In their next outing they take on Sean O’Driscoll’s Bristol City at Ashton Gate on Saturday 9th February. Kick-off is at 3pm.
Birmingham: Butland, Caldwell, Davies, Burke, King, Gomis (Reilly, 64), Elliott, Thomas (Zigic, 72), Caddis, Hall (Redmond, 53), Robinson.
Nottingham Forest: Darlow, Jara, Collins, Halford, Harding, Cohen (Blackstock, 83), Moussi (Majewski, 56), Lansbury, Reid, Henderson (Cox, 71), Sharp.
Man of the match: Jack Butland (Birmingham).
Referee: Darren Deadman.
Attendance: 17,738 (1,963 away).