ZOLA STILL FRETS OVER PRESSURE
BLUES manager Gianfranco Zola insists Birmingham’s late equaliser in Cardiff does not ease the pressure on him.
Lukas Jutkiewicz’s 89th-minute goal cancelled out Joe Ralls’ penalty, but the Midlanders are now just six points above the drop zone.
Birmingham were outside the play-offs on goal difference when Zola replaced Gary Rowett in December. The Italian coach has overseen the Blues’ decline, still with only two wins as boss to his name so far.
“It doesn't ease the pressure – we haven't done anything yet,” said Zola. “There are still a lot of games to play, tough games and we need to make sure we get results.
“I’m more pleased with the performance than relieved because I wanted to see if the team wanted to fight and react to this bad moment and they did.
“We’ve done very good things in games but we need to make sure we can do that in every game and get the momentum on our side.”
Ralls’ speculative half-volley dipped inches wide of Tomasz Kuszczak’s goal in the 11th minute, and Birmingham threatened when Cardiff skipper Sean Morrison timed his sliding tackle to perfection to stop Jutkiewicz.
Anthony Pilkington was making his first start since suffering a muscular injury in January, and nearly broke the deadlock when his freekick flew just over the bar.
But Cardiff continued to create chances in front of a bumper crowd as Joe Bennett could only hit the side netting from a tight angle, before Morrison directed Junior Hoilett’s free-kick wide.
Birmingham could have been awarded a penalty just before the break but referee Peter Bankes correctly booked Arsenal loanee Krystian Bielik for simulation.
Bankes did point to the spot however when Ryan Shotton hauled down Morrison in the box shortly after the restart, and Cardiff took the lead as Ralls’ penalty found the roof of the net.
Birmingham did not immediately respond to the setback and Kenneth Zohore and Pilkington went close to increasing the Bluebirds’ advantage from long range.
Zohore has netted seven times in eight games and the in-form striker tried his luck again from distance, but Kuszczak palmed the ball away.
Cardiff defenders spared Allan McGregor’s blushes late on, when they cleared the ball after the Scot had failed to hold on to a powerful Gardner free-kick.
And luck was on Birmingham’s side when Jutkiewicz bundled the ball home one minute from time.
Substitute Che Adams’ cross was met by the big man whose header was saved at point-blank range by McGregor, but the ball fortunately rebounded off the former Burnley striker and into the net.
It is now the third game in a row where Cardiff have conceded in the last ten minutes, which is stopping them from surpassing Neil Warnock’s 50-point target.
“I’m disappointed just like I was the other night against Blackburn,” said the Bluebirds boss. “I expected a little bit more from Birmingham with the money they’ve spent but they settled for the draw.
“It’s the same group of lads that I took over, I can’t fault the effort from them and we’ve still got a lot to learn.The late goals are a concern because it feels like we’ve lost – I’ll be more disappointed if we concede them in 12 months.”
EYES ON THE BALL: Ryan Shotton and Kenneth Zohore compete Inset: Birmingham celebrate their late leveller