GARD­NER’S ON THE SPOT...

Late penalty gives Blues big boost to­wards safety

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By John Wragg

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.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

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

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