Birmingham City 0-2 VfB Stuttgart

Perhaps losing their first pre-season match, with a disjointed team, against a Bundesliga side preparing for Champions League qualifiers is not such a tragedy.

Stuttgart withstood Blues pressure and possession to finally break the Premier League newcomers down with two goals inside the final quarter-hour, through Elson and Julian Schreiber.

This was Blues’ first taste of action since beginning their pre-season training camp in Austria’s picturesque Zell-am-See and, although not a satisfactory scoreline, manager Alex McLeish will be learning vital lessons about his players.

“We have trained hard since coming out to Austria,” said McLeish. “That’s the most important thing in pre-season.”

In fairness the scoreline barely does justice to McLeish’s mixture of newcomers and old lags, who put up a good show but just failed to convert their chances. This was where Stuttgart’s extra quality told.

 (Sitters: Jerome missed twice as blues went down to VfB)

It was ever thus last season and Blues fans will want to see evidence the old Achilles heel of goalscoring has been fixed. Much pressure is therefore heaped on Blues new but absentee striker Christian Benitez, who continues his convalescence from shoulder surgery.

Yet, despite this being Stuttgart’s sixth pre-season jaunt and Blues’ first, it was City who forged the first chance within five minutes, when Jerome checked and took McFadden’s ball only to be thwarted by VfB’s stopper Jens Lehmann.

It was Maik Taylor’s turn next as Cacau fed Gebhart, but City’s veteran keeper staked his claim for the number one jersey with a fine save. Joe Hart, drafted in from Man City during close season, watched intently from the sidelines.

Still Blues maintained a good level of possession during the first period without really threatening Markus Babbel’s side’s goal often enough.

Keith Fahey danced inside the full-back to set up Jerome, who recently signed a five-year deal, but the big front man blazed over from six yards.

Barry Ferguson made his Birmingham debut in the second period amid a raft of changes and showed a cameo of his undoubted quality in his first run out. Gary McSheffrey made a rare appearance too and almost curled in from 20 yards, but Lehmann watched it clear the far post.

Yet Stuttgart were not unduly troubled by City’s forays and took the lead against the run of play on 78 minutes through Elson.

He wriggled free of defensive attentions just on the arc of the area and fired home past sub keeper Hart, who had no chance. It was a fine goal to win a match but Stuttgart sensed blood and duly struck the killer blow with seven minutes left.

With chilling predictability it was a former Villa man who engineered the crucial goal. Thomas Hitzelsperger’s corner arrowed in from the right and substitute Schreiber headed past the stranded Hart.

Despite the scoreline new boy Roger Johnson looked assured for the most part against a side who finished third in the Bundesliga last season and Ferguson showed glimpses of what he might bring to City’s midfield.

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