Zola laments ‘cruel’ start to his reign

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - FOOTBALL - By Jon Cul­ley at St An­drew’s

Birm­ing­ham City 1 Jutkiewicz 52 2 Brighton Knock­aert 82, Mur­ray 90 Att: 17,287

Two late Brighton goals spoiled what had been shap­ing up as a per­fect start for Gian­franco Zola’s reign as Birm­ing­ham’s new man­ager, with the win­ner com­ing deep into stop­page time.

The home side had gone ahead seven min­utes into the sec­ond half with a header from Lukas Jutkiewicz and were good value for their lead, al­most ex­tend­ing it when only a fine save by goal­keeper David Stock­dale de­nied Jutkiewicz a sec­ond.

But sus­tained Brighton pres­sure over the fi­nal half-hour earned its re­ward when An­thony Knock­aert drilled home a low cross by sub­sti­tute Solly March with eight min­utes left of nor­mal time.

And in the last of four min­utes of added time, striker Glenn Mur­ray steered home a header from a Knock­aert cor­ner to keep for­mer Birm­ing­ham man­ager Chris Hughton’s side on the heels of Cham­pi­onship lead­ers New­cas­tle.

Zola, who was ap­pointed on Wed­nes­day af­ter the con­tro­ver­sial dis­missal of the pop­u­lar Gary Rowett, en­joyed a sup­port­ive re­ac­tion from the home crowd and was pleased with the re­sponse from his play­ers de­spite the re­sult.

“It is cruel to lose like that and I felt for the play­ers,” the 50-year-old Ital­ian said. “But there are many pos­i­tives to take from the per­for­mance.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the wel­come I had from the fans con­sid­er­ing the cir­cum­stances and I’m sorry we could not give them a good re­sult.”

Birm­ing­ham went ahead af­ter Jutkiewicz out­jumped Shane Duffy to meet a David Davis cross and send a loop­ing header be­hind the reach of Stock­dale and into the op­po­site cor­ner.

But Brighton showed their bat­tling qual­i­ties to ex­tend their un­beaten run to 16 matches. “The tim­ing of the equaliser gave us real mo­men­tum and credit to my play­ers for keep­ing it go­ing to win what had been a very hard game,” Hughton said.

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