Birmingham’s promotion campaign took a slight stumble this week, only managing to pick up one point from two games leaving them just in the top six on goal-difference alone. In a week that saw a 4-1 loss away to bottom of the league Portsmouth and a tough-fought home draw against fellow promotion pushers Cardiff, it is one for Blues to perhaps forget and try to move on from as quickly as possible.
It all looked to be going so well when Nikola Zigic put his side ahead just seven minutes into the midweek game on the south coast, yet Blues were left to rue their inability to put the game to bed when Chris Maguire put Pompey back on level terms early in the second half. The onslaught ensued, as just three minutes later David Murphy was dismissed for a second bookable offence, and namesake David Norris put the struggling side ahead.
As Blues pushed for an equaliser, their depleting defence conceded two more, first from substitute Kelvin Etuhu who had been on the pitch a matter of minutes, and then Marko Futacs more than secured the three points in stoppage time to give his side an almighty lift in their fight for survival.
Blues were not only left to rue their missed chances, but the questionable refereeing decisions which lead to Murphy been sent for an early shower, and the free kick that lead to Portsmouth’s second goal appearing to strike a Pompey arm before falling to Norris. Manager Chris Hughton, never one to lament officiating, stated this as one of the reasons for his team’s loss.
But there was no time to dwell on it, with Cardiff City’s visit to St. Andrew’s imminent, Hughton had a few days to prepare for what everyone knew would be a tough fixture. After a poignant tribute to former-Blue Fabrice Muamba, who continues to recover day by day in hospital after collapsing last week, it was back to business on the pitch with the away side looking the more dangerous in the early stages, but failing to cause too many problems with their inability to beat the offside trap.
Blues failed to get anywhere near their best and on the whole, the first half was uninspiring to say the least. Keith Fahey was being missed by the midfield which seemed no-existant, with balls going straight up to Marlon King and Erik Huseklepp; bypassing the centre of the park. The away side definitely went in at half time the happier, seemingly finding the form again that they have lacked of late.
Yet, the second half saw Blues come out the blocks and attack with some real threat. After failing to get Chris Burke on the ball too often in the first forty-five, the ex-Cardiff man was now getting the ball down the wing and causing problems for the Cardiff back line.
As a result of their attacking play, Blues were awarded a penalty when Jordon Mutch was clearly brought down in the area. Marlon King stepped up to take the resulting spot kick, but was out-witted by David Marshall and the score remained at 0-0.
Erik Huseklepp, back in the side after not being able to play against his parent club midweek, almost made up for King’s failed efforts moments later when he found himself through on goal, but it was Marshall who came to the rescue again for Cardiff to keep the scores level.
The game was becoming more end to end, and after a Cardiff attack was dealt with Burke broke with the ball and motored up the pitch and, with Huseklepp in the six-yard box, he coolly squared the ball to the on-loan striker who scored from close range.
It was a fantastic solo effort by Burke culminating in another assist for the man who was voted in the top ten Championship players by the managers in the league earlier this month.
Blues looked to have done enough to take all three points after a seemingly rocky start, but with just twelve minutes left Cardiff produced a perfect move that meant Blues had to share the spoils; Peter Whittingham’s ball found Captain Mark Hudson who fired past Boaz Myhill, who had been untroubled for most of the afternoon.
On reflection it was a deserved equaliser, but at the business end of the season you want to be winning games – especially your home games – even if you don’t necessarily deserve the three points.
Blues travel to relegation threatened Doncaster on Friday night, hoping to get back to winning ways as the season draws to a close. No more mistakes can be made now as we go into the final stretch of games in our quest for promotion.