Whitehead's late finish gave Stoke a much-needed win against Birmingham
By Phil Dawkes
Dean Whitehead poked home a late goal to earn Stoke a first win in five league matches in a see-saw encounter with Birmingham at the Britannia.
Robert Huth hammered the home side ahead before Ricardo Fuller's superb curling finish doubled their advantage.
Keith Fahey's 20-yard strike gave Birmingham hope and Cameron Jerome then headed them level two minutes later.
But Whitehead had the final word after Matthew Etherington's cross deflected into his path.
On the overall balance of play the result was a deserved one, but it was far less comfortable than it should have been for the Potters who controlled much of the match and were seemingly cruising when Fuller put them 2-0 ahead.
Pulis wanted game won earlier
However, for the second game running - following Saturday's 2-2 draw at home to West Ham - Birmingham dragged themselves back into the contest and despite being second best for much of the match will feel they allowed a third successive league draw to slip by.
The visitors had the first effort - with Sebastian Larsson firing over from 35 yards - but other chances in the first half were few and far between.
Former Blues winger Jermaine Pennant was Stoke's most lively player and from his cross early on Kenwyne Jones headed wide.
Minutes later Pennant clipped through for Danny Higginbotham but Birmingham keeper Ben Foster was able to block at his feet and, from Fuller's follow-up, Stephen Carr deflected wide.
The home side's direct style continued to cause problems for the Blues' defence but they held out well, with Scott Dann clearing off the line from a Rory Delap long throw and Foster tipping over a Jones header from a corner.
However, a minute before half-time, the Potters were rewarded for their persistence when Whitehead teed up Fuller, whose shot deflected into the path of Huth to hammer past Foster.
Huth could have doubled the lead either side of half-time with headers from corners, but the first was blocked by team-mate Fuller on the line and the second flew narrowly wide.
Fuller did make it 2-0 in the 71st minute and it was a sucker punch to the visitors, who for five minutes prior had looked the more likely to score.
Following the breakdown of a Birmingham attack, in which Higginbotham struck a Jerome cross against his own post, Fuller carried the ball into the Birmingham half before cutting in from the right past two challenges to curl in to the far corner of the net.
McLeish 'gutted' with Birmingham defeat to Stoke
That should have been that, but the visitors have shown already this season they are capable of comebacks and within five minutes they were looking good for an unlikely point.
Firstly, after Higginbotham had failed to clear a long ball forward, substitute Fahey was on hand to hammer in from the edge of the area.
Two minutes later, Larsson crossed for Jerome to glance a header in and bring his side level.
With momentum fully in their favour, Birmingham pushed for a winner and but for Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic producing two superb saves from Craig Gardner long-range efforts, they could have found one.
However, the Potters rallied and with five minutes remaining Etherington's cross deflected into the path of Whitehead through Dann's legs and the midfielder was able to poke in past Foster from close range to finally seal the win.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis:
"It was a real cracking game but it should have been over at half-time. We created enough opportunities.
"After we scored the second one, the thing that disappointed me was that we took our foot of the pedal and sat back.
"The last five games, four have been away from home and the other was Manchester United. It's been a real tough run, but you want to get out of a rut and we've done that tonight."
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish:
"It was a pitiful third goal and a travesty considering the way we got ourselves back into the game.
"I thought when we got the equaliser there was only going to be one winner because we looked really threatening every time we went forward.
"I'm gutted for the Birmingham fans and the players who battled so hard to get back into the game."
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