GRAY SENDS BLUES FANS INTO ECSTASY
DEMARAI Gray could well be on his way out of Birmingham in the summer but Blues boss Gary Rowett believes his spectacular winner against bitter rivals Wolves will live long in the memory.
With half an hour remaining at St Andrews and the game finely poised at 1-1, the 18-year-old ran the length of the pitch to force an error from Scott Golbourne and calmly slotted home for a memorable triumph.
That the victory dented Wolves’ promotion chances – they now lie eighth – was simply the icing on the cake for the home fans.
The visitors looked on course for a fifth straight win when Benik Afobe fired the opener, but that lead lasted just four minutes as Rob Kiernan scrambled the equaliser.
Gray then notched his first goal in 20 games to write his name in Blues folklore as his side bounced back from Monday’s defeat to Bournemouth.
Indeed, it is the Cherries who lead the chase for Gray’s signature come the end of the season – having had a £5million January deadline day move for the winger rejected.
And while Rowett was quick to credit the youngster for his magnificent finish, the Birmingham manager believes the whole squad more than pulled their weight.
“It was in many ways as complete a performance that we have put in since I have been here, it was a fantastic game and result,” explained Rowett.
“I feel that we controlled the game for large parts, and not many people will argue with the fact that we deserved the win.
“In front of our fans, Demarai Gray always comes up with something a little bit different and a little bit special.
“To run the length of the pitch and to then show the persistence to win the ball back you have got to give him credit for that.
“And then in front of 20,000 fans, the game perfectly poised at 11, a lot of players would maybe snatch at the chance but he always does the right thing in front of goal.”
Birmingham had the game’s first chance on 15 minutes when Diego Fabbrini’s cross-shot had Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme backpedalling.
But Afobe found the back of the net for Wolves after some great determination from Nouha Dicko saw him dispossess Kiernan before squaring the ball to the striker who couldn’t miss. But within five minutes the Blues were back in the game as Ikeme was unable to clear a David Cotterill corner and the ball ricocheted off Kiernan into the net.
Gray’s trickery and quick feet were causing Wolves plenty of problems and just after the hour mark, he netted the winner.
After breaking with the ball from inside his own half, the Birmingham-born speedster outpaced Golbourne and rounded off a brilliant individual goal by wrong-footing Ikeme.
Kevin McDonald fired a late chance to equalise over the bar but Wolves are now two places outside the top six, although level on points with sixth-placed Ipswich. And boss Kenny Jackett is still confident his side will be in the play-off places come May 2.
“Of course you’re always disappointed when you lose, we got ourselves off to a good start in what was always going to be a tight, cagey and competitive local derby,” said Jackett.
“We’ve conceded from two corners and it is especially frus- trating for the second goal when we were on top and threatening and Gray has then ran the length of the pitch and got the winner. for them.
“I am disappointed here but things could get better, the door is still very much open for us, and we need a very good points total and have four very big games now.”
CLOSE RANGER: Rob Kiernan of Birmingham City scores the equaliser Inset: Benik Afobe celebrates his 30th goal of the season