The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Blair Fer­gu­son

STAY­ING in the league is still the main fo­cus for Ip­swich boss Mick McCarthy, de­spite his side mov­ing an­other point fur­ther away from dan­ger with a draw against Birm­ing­ham.

Both sides are now six points ahead of third-bot­tom Black­burn Rovers af­ter a frus­trat­ing, tetchy game.

Jonathan Grounds fired Birm­ing­ham in front two min­utes into the sec­ond half fol­low­ing a save from Bar­tosz Bialkowski, and Grant Ward would have felt for­tu­nate to see his cross fly in at the back post to draw the game level in a sti­fled sec­ond 45 min­utes from Ip­swich.

“We’ve got to get enough points to stay in the league,” said McCarthy said with re­gards to the rest of the rea­son. “That’s the im­por­tant thing, noth­ing else.

“I’m not both­ered about what peo­ple think about me, I just don’t want to be in­volved in a rel­e­ga­tion.

“The first half was just a Cham­pi­onship scrap, but we shaded it. In the sec­ond half we started al­right and we lost all the mo­men­tum by giv­ing a s **** goal away.

“Bart kept us in it with a save and we weren’t play­ing well so they were al­ways go­ing to gain the mo­men­tum. It was a hor­ri­ble at­mos­phere and we got away with a won­der strike – or lucky cross – and got a point.”

The early signs sig­nalled a de­fen­sive Birm­ing­ham out­look, with their first at­tempt on goal com­ing in the 40th minute. Be­fore Lukas Jutkiewicz headed over, David McGoldrick wasted a good chance and Fred­die Sears had an even bet­ter one di­verted wide by To­masz Kuszczak.

The vis­i­tors aban­doned that ap­proach for the sec­ond half and the re­ward was im­me­di­ate. Jutkiewicz saw his low shot well saved by Bialkowski, but Grounds con­tin­ued his run into the box and calmly fired the ball high into the goal.

A fan­tas­tic dis­guised pass from Craig Gar­dener had Jutkiewicz through again, but Bialkowski was equal to him and pushed his sting­ing ef­fort clear of the goal.

Af­ter a dis­jointed 20 min­utes and grow­ing frus­tra­tion from the Ip­swich crowd, the home side drew level. Ward’s cross from the right wing was hit with plenty of power, and some­how man­aged to evade Kuszczak on its way into the far sidenet­ting. Gian­franco Zola’s side still only have two vic­to­ries in 2017, but the Birm­ing­ham man­ager left Suf­folk feel­ing as though his play­ers edged this tight game, and that they were un­lucky to con­cede the sec­ond­half equaliser.

“I’m pleased with a point and I’m pleased with the per­for­mance,” he said. “We scored, we had two very good chances to score, and we also had one at the end.

“We had a cou­ple of great chances, but we didn’t con­vert. It is a pity be­cause prob­a­bly we de­served a lit­tle bit more.

“In the sec­ond half I didn’t see them scor­ing be­cause we were con­trol­ling them well and we were solid at the back, so it was a sur­prise. We looked like we were cruis­ing. To be fair they fought un­til the end and gave ev­ery­thing.

“Watch­ing it back I think To­masz was a lit­tle bit too much on the near post. If he was a bit more in the mid­dle, as he should have been, he could have saved it. In gen­eral, I didn’t think we looked like we were go­ing to con­cede any goals.

“The play­ers fought very hard out there – a lot of play­ers have run a lot – so it will be im­por­tant to re­cover quickly.”

PIC­TURES: Mike Capps

LADY LUCK: Grant Ward cel­e­brates his leveller for Ip­swich Town

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