REPORT: BIRMINGHAM CITY 2-0 TOWNTown’s final away game of the regular Sky Bet Championship season ended in disappointment as 10-men Birmingham City scored two set piece goals to condemn the Terriers to defeat.
David Wagner rang the changes for the game, fielding a fresh side and resting several regulars who have played most minutes, and the Terriers controlled large swathes of the game after Joel Coleman saved a penalty and Birmingham had a man sent off.
Unfortunately, too many details weren’t right in the defensive and attacking thirds and a set piece goal gave Birmingham a lead to defend.
That advantage was doubled through a second penalty with a quarter of an hour to go as the Terriers failed to test the goalkeeper enough.
Town controlled possession in their own half as the game began, taking the sting out of a good atmosphere from a packed St. Andrew’s crowd. It quickly became clear that Harry Redknapp’s side was happy for Town players to have the ball in their own half, permitting Philip Billing a lot of time to pick passes.
The first chance of note was created by the Terriers inside five minutes. Harry Bunn, making his first league start since the win at Wigan Athletic on 2 January, picked up a knock-down from Collin Quaner and found Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, whose good first-time effort from 20 yards shaved the outside of the far post.
Things looked to have swung in Birmingham’s favour barely two minutes later when the home side was awarded a penalty. An early throw-in caught Town’s defence out of possession and one-time Town loanee Lukas Jutkiewicz knocked the ball around Martin Cranie for Che Adams to chase. He backed Mark Hudson into the area before knocking the ball past him and going down under the Town Captain’s sliding challenge.
However, Joel Coleman had other ideas. Jutkiewicz took the spot kick and the Town ‘stopper read his intentions, diving low to his left to stop the initial effort before recovering to pounce on the ball – much to the delight of the travelling supporters behind the goal!
Birmingham moved the ball quickly forward when they gained possession and the athleticism of the hosts caused a few problems. Whitehead and Cranie got in each other’s way in the 12th minute and Jutkiewicz picked the loose ball up before powering a rising shot over the bar from 25 yards.
Jutkiewicz’s aerial prowess and power was a handful for Cranie and Hudson and he soon sent another shot off target from range after Holmes-Dennis was careless in possession and lost out to right back Nsue.
Billing was playing well and he setup Town’s next chance two minutes’ later. After his initial shot was blocked, he found Quaner with a smart pass and the German quickly moved the ball right to Smith. Tommy’s low cross took a deflection and rolled just wide of the far post with several attacking players looking for a tap-in.
Things got worse for the Blues in the 23rd minute when they were reduced to 10 men. Birmingham’s Che Adams led a counter-attack from the resulting Town corner, but his pass was intercepted smartly by Cranie. Adams tried to win the ball back and lunged into a tackle on the centre back, with referee Mike Jones on the spot to produce a quick red card.
Dropping into a 4-4-1 shape, Birmingham dropped a little deeper and Town enjoyed even more possession. Smith was only denied a clear run at goal by a good piece of defending by left back Grounds before Billing forced Tomasz Kuszczak to tip his curling shot over the bar after another good passing move a minute later.
Another good Smith cross almost led to a goal for Harry Bunn in the 39th minute, but the ball rolled beyond the far post and the winger could only turn it into the outside of the side netting at full stretch.
Town’s only issue was the concession of too many set pieces around the penalty box – and that came back to bite them when Birmingham scored from one, five minutes before the interval.
Gardner took a corner after Holmes-Dennis blocked Maghoma’s cross behind and when the initial delivery was returned to him, he switched onto his left and delivered a great, deep cross past Quaner. Centre back Michael Morrison forced Hudson into heading the ball across goal perfectly for Grounds to nod home on the line.
Town created two presentable openings to finish the half, but couldn’t get back on level terms. First Bunn’s deflected cross evaded everyone after he beat Grounds in the corner and then Payne saw his shot saved by the goalkeeper after a smart turn goalwards in a tight area.
Wagner switched his team’s shape to 3-4-1-2 during the interval, with Nahki Wells replacing Holmes-Dennis, but the Terriers didn’t test the goalkeeper nearly enough in the second 45 minutes. In fact, it was Jack Payne who forced the goalkeeper into proper work for the first time with the final kick of the game.
Town still controlled large portions of the half, but couldn’t break through a well-organised Blues side.
Wells floated a free kick over the bar from a good position four minutes in after Quaner’s surge forward was unfairly halted by Davis.
At the other end, Coleman did well to push away another Jutkiewicz shot from a narrow angle after he latched onto Maghoma’s hopefully hook forward ahead of Hudson.
Wells responded, but volleyed well wide with 25 minutes left after Lolley’s cross was cleared to him on the edge of the box.
Wagner brought Mooy and Scannell on to try and change the game with around 25 minutes left, which saw Whitehead switch to centre back. Unfortunately, Dean was left isolated in the 75th minute and tripped Maghoma in the penalty area on a counter-attack, leading to a second Birmingham penalty of the game.
This time Gardner stepped up and he made no mistake, sending Coleman the wrong way to double the advantage.
Town kept plugging away, with Scannell’s shot hitting a sliding Maghoma and hitting the top of the net rather than dipping below the crossbar. From the resulting corner, Quaner found Smith and he curled over.
Sadly, Philip Billing then jarred his knee in a challenge with Davis with six minutes left, forcing Town down to 10 and seeing the impressive Dane walk gingerly down the touchline.
Town’s team vs Birmingham City:
Joel Coleman; Tareiq Holmes-Dennis (Nahki Wells, 46’), Martin Cranie, Mark Hudson (c) (Aaron Mooy, 67’), Tommy Smith; Philip Billing, Dean Whitehead; Harry Bunn (Sean Scannell, 67’), Jack Payne, Joe Lolley; Collin Quaner
Danny Ward, Jonathan Hogg, Christopher Schindler, Regan Booty
Tareiq Holmes-Dennis (32’); Collin Quaner (57’)
Town fans: 1,690