MUR­RAY GIVES ZOLA THE BLUES

St An­drew’s shows sup­port for Rowett’s re­place­ment – but Seag­ulls pounce

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

NEW Birm­ing­ham boss Gian­franco Zola suf­fered de­but heart­break as Glenn Mur­ray’s last-gasp header con­signed the Blues to de­feat.

Ex-Chelsea and Italy star Zola ar­rived at St An­drew’s on Wed­nes­day, just hours af­ter the con­tro­ver­sial dis­missal of Gary Rowett.

Un­happy with Birm­ing­ham’s style of play and hell-bent on reach­ing the play-offs, the Blues’ Chi­nese own­ers have or­dered Zola to make swift im­prove­ments.

Yet hav­ing seen his side snatch the lead through a Lukas Jutkiewicz header, then lose it to an An­thony Knock­aert strike, Zola was left bereft as Mur­ray nod­ded his 14th of the sea­son in the 94th minute.

“It is the play­ers I feel sorry for, not me,” in­sisted Zola. “To play so well and then lose a game in that way is painful – it is very sad for them.

“We knew we were play­ing against a top-of-the-ta­ble team but it didn’t seem like it. We were dom­i­nant for a long time and they didn’t cre­ate many chances. I didn’t see them scor­ing.

“I have seen a lot of things that are very pos­i­tive. When you have play­ers who are will­ing to run and sacri­fice them­selves like that, it is a great ba­sis.”

Some­what sur­pris­ingly given the anger that greeted Rowett’s dis­missal, Zola was also treated to Blues fans chant­ing his name. “That was nice to hear,” he ad­mit­ted. “I am just sorry I couldn’t give them a vic­tory.”

Zola should have en­joyed a dream start. Mere sec­onds had elapsed when Jutkiewicz jinked into the box and squared a seem­ingly un­miss­able ball to Maikel Kieften­beld.

Yet miss it the Dutch­man did, shank­ing his ef­fort against the post from em­bar­rass­ingly close range. If first im­pres­sions are ev­ery­thing, the 26-year-old is off to a stinker.

Oth­ers caught the eye more favourably. Ryan Shot­ton’s pace at the back nul­li­fied Mur­ray and Sam Bal­dock. David Davis was a

non-stop flurry of tack­les, in­ter­cep­tions and ratty per­sis­tence.

A deft up-and-over for Jutkiewicz also show­cased David Cotterill’s en­dur­ing class; con­sid­ered mer­cu­rial by Rowett, the winger’s tech­ni­cal pro­fi­ciency will be in­te­gral to Zola’s pass­ing style, cer­tainly in the short term.

Given just two days to work with his play­ers, that trans­for­ma­tion was un­der­stand­ably more ev­i­dent in the dugout than on the grass of St An­drew’s.

In­deed, the opener owed more to ath­leti­cism than aes­thet­ics. Greg Ste­wart laid off to Davis, who dinked an ac­cu­rate if pace­less ball to the back post. Jutkiewicz had plenty to do but leapt ma­jes­ti­cally to power a header be­yond David Stock­dale and into the far cor­ner.

But there is a rea­son Brighton are un­beaten in 16 matches.

In­spired by sub Solly March, the visi­tors grad­u­ally turned the screw. Mur­ray went close, Jonathan Grounds cleared a Shane Duffy header off the line.

And as the back four re­treated ever deeper, March cap­i­talised, cross­ing for An­thony Knock­aert to sweep home his first goal since the death of his fa­ther.

As cross af­ter cor­ner swung in, one even­tu­ally landed on the head of Mur­ray who glanced home be­fore sprinting the length of the pitch to cel­e­brate.

“Credit to my play­ers,” said for­mer Blues boss Chris Hughton. “It was game of very few chances but we’ve got a team who know what it takes to get re­sults and a very good striker in Glenn.

“It wasn’t his best game but he’s al­ways got that abil­ity to score a goal out of noth­ing.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

REACH FOR SKY: An­thony Knock­aert cel­e­brates scor­ing Brighton’s equaliser

TRIB­UTES: Birm­ing­ham fans with a mes­sage for for­mer man­ager Gary Rowett

YES! Jutkiewicz cel­e­brates scor­ing Birm­ing­ham’s first

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