ZOLA STILL FRETS OVER PRES­SURE

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Jake Ba­con

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.”

PIC­TURES: An­drew Lewis/ProS­ports

EYES ON THE BALL: Ryan Shot­ton and Ken­neth Zo­hore com­pete In­set: Birm­ing­ham cel­e­brate their late lev­eller

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