Benitez is calm as Blues hold out
NEWCASTLE United’s title bid stuttered once more as under-pressure Gianfranco Zola frustrated his pal Rafa Benitez.
A towering display by Blues keeper Tomasz Kuszczak was all that stood in the way of a Newcastle victory.
But this was a performance that will give Zola some hope that he can still turn things around at St Andrew’s – despite a record of just two wins in 19 games since taking over.
It will be worrying times for Benitez, though, who has seen his side take only two points from the last three games.
This was a match that the Spaniard would have expected to win with Birmingham on the ropes and nervously eyeing the relegation zone.
Benitez had his share of selection problems though with key defender Ciaran Clark out injured and key men Dwight Gayle and Jonjo Shelvey – who was recovering from illness – coming off the bench.
But Zola’s men dug in superbly to stop Newcastle in their tracks, but they did not have enough to shock the Geordies with a goal despite the tireless efforts of striker Lukas Jutkiewicz, who twice went close to scoring the winner.
Kuszczak’s saves aside, Newcastle thought they had broken the deadlock five minutes before the break when Matt Ritchie forced the ball over the line from close-range.
Ayoze Perez’s shot had been kept out by Kuszczak but when Ritchie followed up to net, he was ruled to be in an offside position.
It simply was not Newcastle’s day in terms of getting back to winning ways but Benitez was thankful for small mercies as he took another point towards a return to the Premier League.
He said: “It was disappointing, we controlled the game and had some chances.
“The goal shouldn’t have been disallowed but their keeper played well. “We didn’t take our chances. “We deserved to win and the expectation was that we can. But at least we have one more point and one less match, it’s important to learn how to manage these games.
“We’re in a better a position than we were. But we showed we could manage the intensity of the game. But you cannot create 20 chances in ten minutes.
“We have the feeling that every game is important, there are still eight to play, but I’m still not very happy as we could have got three points.”
Birmingham boss Zola was happy to hold the promotion favourites after months of uncertainty.
But he still thinks Benitez will be promoted in May.
Zola said: “Yes, 100 per cent, they have the quality to go up.
“The heart and determination not to concede was first-class.
“That was what the moment required.
“We also created a lot of chances considering the standard of the opposition. That was encouraging for me. It was good.
“This is what I expect from my team, we need to be defensively organised and difficult to beat.
“We need results that will give us tranquility. I would like to have this consistency against the smaller teams, but then it’s a different type of game.
“If I don’t get the results I want then I’m under pressure, I’m used to that. This is one result, I’m looking for more than that, this is a very small platform. We need to make it bigger.”
EYES ON THE BALL: Birmingham’s Krystian Bielik and Newcastle’s Yoan Gouffran compete for the ball