The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Liam Cole­man

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.”

PIC­TURES: Will Kilpatrick

CLOSE RANGER: Rob Kier­nan of Birm­ing­ham City scores the equaliser Inset: Benik Afobe cel­e­brates his 30th goal of the sea­son

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.