Blues bitten by gutsy Terriers
FA Cup 3rd round: Huddersfield Town 2 Birmingham City 1
Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish stopped short of seeking solace in the classic cliché often used to console early FA Cup losers.
The hackneyed response of many beaten bosses is to dismiss the competition as a distraction and declare that they can now concentrate on the league. A third-round exit at the hands of much lower-graded opponents, however, is too embarrassing for a top-flight club to merely shrug off as a blessing in disguise.
That Birmingham can now focus fully on avoiding being knocked out of the Premier League will be little comfort for their followers right now. McLeish, who wanted an extended run during his first taste of the FA Cup, admitted as much. However, there is no denying that preserving the St Andrew's club League status is the manager's premier priority.
The biggest boost from this FA Cup farce is not that Birmingham now have an uncongested run-in, it is that the surgery required to save them was laid bare for all to see at the Galp-harm Stadium.
Quite whether his players have the appetite for the battle will be the biggest worry troubling the manager after this sorry episode. With the Premier League team some 42 places above their League One hosts, it should never have been an even playing field between McLeish's favourites and Andy Ritchie's underdogs.
However, a pitch bumpier than the surface of the moon was, in FA Cup parlance, 'a great leveller' as Huddersfield exposed Birmingham's uncertainty about their surroundings.
From the first whistle, the Terriers terrorised Blues by closing down space, tackling tenaciously and forcing their opponents into errors.
One such mistake, from the usually-reliable Birmingham goalkeeper Maik Taylor, resulted in the opening goal after only four minutes, which set the tone for the rest of the tie.
Luke Beckett had scored at the two previous stages for Huddersfield who, due to their lowly status, had to enter the tournament at round one. The striker will surely never have had an easier opportunity than the tap-in that fell to him on the goalline when Taylor spilled Danny Schofield's tame shot into his path.
Birmingham's Fabrice Muamba was born to battle and while many of his team-mates lacked effort and endeavour, the former Arsenal youngster's determination led to a quick equaliser.
After a quick break involving Daniel DeRidder, Muamba charged into the box and brought a save out of Huddersfield goalkeeper Matt Glennon, with Garry O'Connor rolling the rebound into the unguarded net.
By then, the only true moment of Premier League quality from Birmingham had seen Mikael Forssell turn his marker, David Mirfin, inside out, forcing Glennon to block with his legs at the near post.
Taylor attempted to make up for his part in the opening goal by showing similarly sharp reflexes to frustrate Chris Brandon after he rose to head Robbie Williams' cross goalwards at the far post.
If Brandon was to be denied on that occasion, there was no stopping him for the winner which condemned Birmingham to arguably their most embarrassing FA Cup defeat since they were dumped out of the tournament by Kidderminster Harriers in 1994.
His 81st-minute strike came against the run of play. Blues had penned Huddersfield in their own half without ever really threatening for most of the second-half.
The late breakaway proved to be enough, however, as Beckett latched on to Schofield's right-wing pass to dig out a terrific cross which Brandon despatched clinically at the far post.
Birmingham's brightest moments had already come and gone by then with Glennon getting getting down well to clasp O'Connor's snapshot to his chest at the second attempt and Gary McSheffrey choosing the wrong option by firing wide with better-placed attacking colleagues awaiting a pass.
McSheffrey did play his part in the fruitless search for a second equaliser, crossing for Radhi Jaidi to wastefully head over and forcing a full-stretch save from Glennon in injury-time.
It was too little too late, however, for below-par Birmingham. With wholesale changes seemingly afoot, they could have a completely different look about them by the time they enter this competition next year.