GARDNER’S ON THE SPOT...
Late penalty gives Blues big boost towards safety
BIRMINGHAM fan Craig Gardner yelled at the Tilton Road End after he had lashed in his penalty for the win that keeps his club fighting for their Championship life.
Gardner’s passion for Blues goes deep. He wanted this penalty. Jacques Maghoma, whose legs had been whipped away by Dean Whitehead, was up and ready to take it but manager Harry Redknapp got his message across: “Give it to Gardner.”
Ryan Shotton put his arms around Maghoma, who had had an outstanding game, explained what the boss wanted, and Gardner did the rest.
Regular penalty taker Lukas Jutkiewicz had already had one saved so there was pressure here for Gardner.
But he blasted the ball in, right-footed, giving Huddersfield goalkeeper Joel Coleman no chance of making himself an even bigger hero.
Birmingham had been down to ten men since the 23rd minute when Che Adams were sent off but Jonathan Grounds got an important first goal just before half-time and Gardner then did his club proud with the clincher.
It was Birmingham’s first win in 11 games, leaving them to match or better what Blackburn or Nottingham Forest do on Sunday’s final day of the season to stay up.
But Blues boss Harry Redknapp is not messing about. He’s going for a win at Bristol City.
“That’s the only way,” says Redknapp, a veteran of so many last-day cliff-hangers.
But he admitted he feared it all might go wrong.
“I thought it might not be our day,” said Redknapp. “I thought we needed to get our noses in front early.
“Having missed a penalty I thought, ‘Here we go’. And then the sending off – it was a big blow and I thought it was a very harsh decision.”
Birmingham rarely do things easily.
All through their history they have fought against the odds, a lot of it self-inflicted, and here they were again battling adversity. There was a general agreement that Gianfranco Zola was an
unlucky manager and that contributed to the depressing series of results that put Blues in this mess.
When Jutkiewicz missed his eighth-minute penalty and Adams was sent off a quarter-ofan-hour later, it looked as though Zola had left but fate hadn’t.
Huddersfield had made ten changes for the game and even the odd man out, Martin Cranie, was playing out of position. But with ten men playing a reserve side it is still hard.
Manager David Wagner defended that, saying he would have an argument with anyone who disagreed with what he had done.
Huddersfield are already in the play-offs and Wagner said: “The rotation is part of my idea in this busy schedule we have in the Championship. I agree a few of these changes I made were with a view to the play-offs, but it was not the whole reason I made ten changes.
“I have to make sure we perform as well as we can in every game, but especially in the playoffs. This club is in the play-offs for the first time in 45 years.”
Redknapp had no problem with what Wagner did, saying it wasn’t his problem the mess Birmingham were in.
Their luck looked to have turned when Mark Hudson shoved Adams to the ground early but Jutkiewicz’s penalty was too close to Coleman.
Adams then got a straight red for his tackle on Cranie but Grounds nodded home from close range after Morrison’s knock down to settle the Blues and Redknapp did the rest in the second half to get Gardner on spot-kicks for a vital victory.
MISCUE: Birmingham City’s Lukas Jutkiewicz misses a penalty and, right, Harry Redknapp offers encouragement OPENER: Jonathan Grounds nets the Blues’ first goal
PENALTY KING: Craig Gardner nets his pressure spot-kick