Zola laments ‘cruel’ start to his reign
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.