The Lions succumbed to an agonising penalty shootout defeat on a brisk October evening in a tight and physical encounter with Aston. With a lively atmosphere provided by a raucous Aston following, Birmingham were unfortunate to lose a game they largely controlled despite falling behind to a second half penalty. Their desire and determination to get back in the game was unwavering from that moment onwards, and they will certainly look back on the game with pride.
If the concluding moments of the game were frantic and exhilarating, the first half was quite the contrast to this: the rare chances being punctuated by some crunching challenges as both sides looked to avoid conceding an early goal. The early stages saw Birmingham threaten from set pieces, with a powerful header flashing wide from an early corner an indicator of consistent aerial superiority. The best chance however in the first half fell to Aston as a powerful surge down the right-hand side saw a shooting opportunity open up. Just as the expectant crowd waited to see the net ripple, UoB’s keeper expertly got down with a strong right foot to maintain parity. Jens Lehmann circa the 2003/2004 invincible season would have been proud of the reflexes shown by the shot stopper. Beyond that brilliant save, the first half never really sparked into life at either ends, with play continually being halted by some heavy fouls. The referee took a lenient approach throughout to his credit although this didn’t stop the tongue in cheek cry of ‘did you bring your cards today ref?’ after a late challenge from the Birmingham left back.
The second half was a different affair. Birmingham started brightly before being pegged back by a well dispatched penalty. On the right-hand side of the box, the Aston striker managed to just toe the ball away from the committed fullback, with the resultant collision a certain penalty. The ball was dispatched with great confidence to the keepers left and suddenly the Lions faced an uphill task after looking relatively comfortable. As the Birmingham pressure increased, it seemed to be only a matter of time before an equaliser was found and a brilliantly delivered set piece was to be the source. As a ball came in from the right, Aston failed to clear and the left back at the far post rifled home underneath the goalkeeper. The equaliser seemed to breathe new light into Birmingham’s attacking play and they were unfortunate to not find a winner before extra time.
By and large, extra time was a non-event as both teams were considerably jaded. With widespread cramp setting in, the sides seemed to settle for the penalty shootout. Aston drew first blood after a brilliant one-handed save by their keeper to see them lead 3:2. The next penalty was however, heroically saved by Birmingham’s keeper to leave the match on a knifes edge. With the next three penalties being scored, the pressure was on the Lion’s right-back to keep them in the game and, devastatingly, his strike rattled the crossbar to spark scenes of jubilation among the visiting players and fans.
Birmingham may be upset over the result, but with a very positive performance, they can hold their heads high after a promising display.