Wigan 2 Birmingham 3: Sure-fire Sebastian Larsson is having a real ball

Sebastian Larsson confirmed what goalkeepers have suspected for some time – that the ball used in the Premier League this season is a dream for attackers and a nightmare for keepers.

The Birmingham midfielder scored two free-kicks as Alex McLeish’s side came from behind to extend their unbeaten run to six games.

The Sweden international gave the ball most of the credit for his double, saying: ‘Last season I couldn’t hit a barn door. It probably sounds ridiculous to say but it has something to do with the balls.

Sebastian Larsson

Pure delight: Sebastian Larsson celebrates with his team-mates after scoring for Birmingham at Wigan

‘For me personally it’s a massive difference playing with the Nike balls to the Mitre balls. I know a lot of people will probably laugh at that.

‘But it’s the truth for me. It may not be the same for other players but I just prefer the balls in the Premier League to the Championship.

‘It will be good for my confidence. I’ve only had one free-kick so far this season against Burnley so that’s a bit better. Hopefully they’ll start to come again.

‘The atmosphere is the best since I’ve been here. We really enjoy it but we can’t get carried away and start talking Europe.’

Birmingham are in the top half of the table as they head off to Scotland for their Christmas party.

Manager McLeish said: ‘It’s marvellous. Looking at the table on the television brings a great sense of pride. It’s a fantastic achievement but it means nothing and if we’re in the Premier League in May, we’ll be just as delighted.

‘I’ve got players I can trust and that makes a huge difference. It’s been a steady build-up over two seasons and we’re getting towards looking like a pretty good team.’

Roger Johnson

Anger management: Birmingham's Roger Johnson is held back by his team-mates after being caught by Hugo Rodallega (right)

A Birmingham win looked unlikely at half-time, as Wigan dominated the first half despite goalkeeper Chris Kirkland going off because of a back spasm after 24 minutes.

But Wigan only managed one goal in the first 45 minutes - a lovely curling shot from Charles N’Zogbia - and were made to pay in the second half.

First Larsson’s set-piece evaded everybody and sneaked in, then Christian Benitez squeezed the ball under Kirkland’s replacement Mike Pollitt after being put through by Lee Bowyer.

Larsson’s second free-kick, curled in from 20 yards, gave Birmingham breathing space and despite another superb free-kick, this time from Wigan’s Jordi Gomez, the
visitors held on.

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez launched a scathing attack on his players after the game and claimed he was more disappointed in them than after the 9-1 defeat by Tottenham.

Charles N'zogbia

Celebration time: Charles N'zogbia takes the plaudits after scoring for Wigan

He said: ‘In a way, I am more disappointed than after Tottenham, because it was the same problems that we showed there, that inconsistency in our play is the reason for it and the lack of character that you need to have as a team.

‘The character of the team and the character of individuals are things we’re going to address. The other side is that we need to look at the bigger picture and it’s important that the individual characters are the right characters we need at Wigan.

‘We need to make sure that what happened today doesn’t happen again.’

One flashpoint in the game came when Birmingham’s Roger Johnson reacted with fury to being caught by a flailing arm from Hugo Rodallega in the 14th minute.

The midfielder had to be restrained by his team-mates from confronting Rodallega, who was also protected by referee Lee Probert.

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