A cold Tuesday night in Birmingham may not seem like the perfect setting for an important game of championship football. However, for the supporters of Birmingham and Cardiff city, the stakes simply could not be higher. Yet despite this match taking on equal importance for both teams, the contrast in emotions coming into tonight’s clash could not be more stark.
Even before the match had begun it would have seemed to have been advantage Birmingham City who were targeting their third consecutive league win to continue to further ease their relegation woes. By contrast, the south Wales outfit had taken just one point from a possible 18 available since the turn of year, meaning they travelled to the West Midlands above the relegation zone only on goal difference having played a game more than nearest rivals Wigan Athletic.
A fairly subdued atmosphere would greet the players upon their arrival to the pitch, despite the best efforts of the tannoy operator. On one hand it could be due to the still precarious position both clubs find themselves in going into tonight’s match. On the other hand, Valentines day commitments may have curtailed the plans for some fans committed to an evening at home with their better halves.
Before kick off, both sets of players would take the knee in a continued stance against racism and discrimination.
Cardiff would start quickest following kick off and looked to utilise their front two of Kion Etete and Sory Kaba in what appeared to be a 442 set up, in contrast to Birmingham’s 433 diamond formation. Though neither side were able to fashion any real opportunities in the opening five minutes.
True to the early form of the game, it would be Cardiff who obtained the first set piece opportunity of the game though Ryan Wintle’s fast cross would come to nothing. Moments later Brimignham would win a set piece of their own, though the corner from Hannibal manger to evade every blue and indeed grey shirt in the box before bouncing wide of the post.
Juninho Bacuna would be the next player to have an impact on the game in the 15th minute with a skillful run down the right to win the home side a corner. Their second corner of the game would produce their first notable chance of the match as it would be Bacuna once more looking to test the Cardiff defence, ultimately putting the ball wide.
Despite a consistent spell of Birmingham pressure, Cardiff themselves would create a decent, albeit fruitless opportunity, which Sory Kaba acrobatically put wide. Though Cardiff would keep the pressure up and quick feet from Callum O’Dowda would win them their first corner of the match. The corner which would be taken short almost produced the first goal of the match with Kaba getting on the end of Wintle’s cross to head right across the face of goal.
Birmingham felt they were entitled to a corner following a speculative ball forward towards Lukas Jutkiewicz. However, the assistant referee would award a goal kick, adding to the frustrations towards the officiating team that were already very present around St Andrews. These frustrations would be furthered with referee Gavin Ward denying Birmingham a quick throw in a good position to check on the welfare of O’Dowda who had engaged in a brief Valentines day encounter with the advertising hoarding on the near touchline.
A wayward pass from Cardiff’s Auston Trusty on 27 minutes perhaps summed up the quality of the game so far. Jutkiewicz would soon raise the noise level however, with a strong run and cross down the right hand side which was only narrowly missed by Bacuna.
Cardiff’s second corner of the game would be greeted by more groans from the home contingent towards the referee. Wintle’s cross was strong, and did meet the head of Kion Etete, but in reality caused more trouble for the substitutes warming up on the touchline than John Ruddy in the Birmingham City goal.
Minutes 30 to 37 will not go down some of the greatest minutes in Championship football history. Both teams were seemingly unable to produce any quality in the final third barring some brief Cardiff City head tennis in the Birmingham 18 yard box. Some tricky play from Romaine Sawyers would provide Cardiff with a decent set piece opportunity 35 yards from goal. Whilst the cross left little to be desired, Wintle was at least able to produce the first shot on target, safely into the arms of Ruddy.
Birmingham city would then take their turn to produce a half chance through Jutkiewicz which would eventually lead to a corner for the home side. Though once again they were unable to capitalise on the opportunity as half time approached.
Cardiff City would be awarded a seemingly cheap free kick on the far side which gave Wintle another opportunity to test the home side’s defence. Fair to say the fans were not best pleased with Gavin Ward’s decision. Thankfully for Ward, the free kick would come to nothing.
And that would conclude the first half with no time to be added on. Fair to say all in attendance were not being treated to a classic under the lights on this cold February night.
The booming voice of the tannoy operator signalled the start of the second half, with Cardiff City now shooting towards the end where their travelling fans were situated in good numbers.
The first five minutes of the second half seemed to emulate the entirety of the first, though a Jutkiewicz run and cross did at least give the home fans something to get their teeth into.
A couple of minutes later Birmingham would mount a serious threat on the Cardiff goal with Jutkiewicz meeting Bacuna’s ball inside the 6 yard box. However, this would prove fruitless, and as quick as a flash Birmingham would find themselves defending a corner controversially awarded by the referee. These moments would lift the noise significantly around St Andrews for the first time in the game.
By the 57th minute, neither side were looking likely. As a result the tension inside the stadium would boil over following an on the ball collision involving Tahith Chong. Romaine Sawyers would see yellow as well as Hannibal Mejbri as a result following their protestations towards the referee as well as their involvement in the altercation which followed the foul. This incident saw the noise inside St Andrews rise once more along with further condemnation of Gavin Ward’s refereeing performance.
On 61 minutes the most entertaining moment of the game so far would feature Cardiff striker Sory Kaba, whose attempted self set overhead kick drew many jeers from the home support as it trickled well wide.
Birmingham City would once again look to utilise Jutkiewicz as their focal point in attack. Several attempted crosses would come and go however, with no change to the scoreline at 0-0, the home fans becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of end product.
The already booked Hannibal would take a risk by bringing down Mahlon Romeo on the edge of the Birmingham city box. The resultant free kick saw Kaba’s volley fly just over the crossbar giving Cardiff their closest opportunity yet.
Bacuna and Hannibal would then break free through the centre and execute a devastating 1-2 which seemed only one key pass away from a shot on goal, Cardiff’s subsequent counter would come to nothing and it seemed that Brimingham had firmly seized the initiative.
However, sloppy passing would allow Cardiff’s Andy Rinomhota in to produce more pressure on Birmingham’s goal. The home side looked to kill the momentum of the travelling side with a quadruple change. Hannibal, Bacuna, Chong and Jutkiewicz would be replaced by Longelo, Deeney, Gardner and Hall. Cardiff would make three changes of their own with Romeo, Etete and Kaba being replaced by Philogene, Wickham and Robinson.
Connor Wickham would have an instant impact for Cardiff with a strong shot straight into the arms of Ruddy. Birmingham’s instant reply was a deflected shot which would win them a less than convincing corner kick which would once again come to nothing.
Cardiff would go into the final ten minutes on top with the newly introduced Jaden Philogene winning them a quick corner following a consistent spell of pressure from the away side. Cardiff would maintain this pressure and win a free kick in a great position on the edge of the box following a foul by Harlee Dean on Callum O’Dowda.
And my goodness would they make it count! Perry Ng stepped up and looped a superb free kick over the wall and into the top corner leaving Ruddy with absolutely no chance, sending the travelling fans into absolute raptures behind the goal. The atmosphere around St Andrews was now beyond despondent barring the 845 Cardiff City supporters.
On the 85th minute Andy Rinomhota would make way for Joe Ralls for Cardiff whilst Birmingham would use their final substitute to bring on Jordan James for Harlee Dean.
Birmingham would briefly be elated when Troy Deeney broke free and poked the ball home, only to be denied by the offside flag. A golden opportunity would then go begging from six yards following some superb defensive intervention from Cardiff to keep the score in their favour. The 90 minute mark was fast approaching and the fourth official would mark this moment and signal 6 minutes of added time.
The first minute of these minutes would see desperate cries from Birmingham fans for a handball which would ultimately be denied by Gavin Ward, the least popular man on the pitch as far as the home side were concerned. The pressure was all Birmingham but the feeling was one of complete desperation.
That desperation would soon turn to decollation as Cardiff would make the game safe through starman Callum Robinson. A dizzying run past three Brimingham defenders was followed by an emphatic finish into the roof of the net to put the game beyond any doubt. The goalscorer ripped his shirt off in celebration in front of the elated Cardiff City supporters who now knew that their long trip had been well worth it with their first league win since mid November.
And with that, Gavin Ward blew the full time whistle amid a smattering of boos and jeers from the Birmingham City supporters who saw their team trudge off the pitch with their heads bowed. By contrast, Cardiff players and fans celebrated what could be a seismic victory in their Championship campaign as a collective with manager Sabri Lamouchi leading the celebrations.
For a game that was very much a drab affair for 80 minutes it most certainly had a gripping and enthralling conclusion. Birmingham would be left to lick their wounds whilst Cardiff City would trek back to south Wales with three points safely in the bag.
Attendance: 14,369 (845 Away Fans)
John Ruddy (21)
Maxime Colin (2)
Dion Sanderson (28)
Harlee Dean (12)
Auston Trusty (5)
Krystian Bielik (31)
Juninho Bacuna (7)
Tahith Chong (18)
Lukas Jutkiewicz (10)
Scott Hogan (9)
Neil Etheridge (1)
George Friend (3)
Emmanuel longelo (23)
Jordan James (19)
Gary Gardner (20)
George Hall (35)
Troy Deeney (8)
Ryan Allsop (1)
Mahlon Romeo (2)
Mark McGuinness (5)
Ryan Wintle (6)
Kion Etete (9)
Callum O’Dowda (11)
Romaine Sawyers (19)
Cedric Kipre (23)
Andy Rinomhota (35)
Perry Ng (38)
Sory Kaba (48)
Jak Alnwick (21)
Joe Ralls (8)
Sheyi Ojo (10)
Jaden Philogene (25)
Jack Simpson (26)
Connor Wickham (31)
Callum Robinson (47)
Referee: Gavin Ward
Assistants: Philip Dermott, Nigel Lugg
Fourth Official: Darren Drysdale