SO THERE was no dream ending to an extraordinary season for Birmingham, as they were relegated on the final day after winning the Carling Cup and qualifying for Europe.
Alex McLeish’s men needed victory to give themselves a realistic chance of staying up, and for a few minutes were out of the relegation zone when Craig Gardner equalised Roman Pavlyuchenko’s opener for Spurs.
But as results elsewhere were going against them, Birmingham were already heading to the Championship before Pavlyuchenko struck a second goal, deep into stoppage time, to confirm the victory that left Spurs in fifth place.
It was a dramatic day to finish what has been a dramatic season for both teams.
Not surprisingly, most of the goalmouth action was in Ben Foster’s area. The Birmingham goalkeeper is coveted by Tottenham and he showed why with a couple of smart saves in the early stages.
Birmingham rarely ventured into Tottenham territory, and when they did, hardly posed much of a threat. The biggest cheer of the first half from their supporters came in the 23rd minute when the score from Old Trafford flashed on the big screens, showing Manchester United ahead against Blackpool, a position did wonders for Birmingham’s survival chances.
There was not much else to get excited about in a tepid first half. Although Spurs were not playing for their Premier League lives, like their visitors, they had incentive enough to win and secure automatic qualification for the Europa League rather than go through the qualifying stages, which start next month.
Luka Modric had a long shot saved comfortably shortly before half time, but their next effort was more effective — and significant.
Danny Rose, lively at left-back, did well to beat two markers on the touchline and play the ball infield. Pavlyuchenko was 25 yards from goal when he received the ball, looked up and curled a measured shot into the far corner of goal.
It stunned the Blues, who must have realised that they were, at that stage, in the bottom three.
Suddenly there was more urgency in Birmingham’s play but still Spurs dominated possession and forced the only chances of any real note.
That all changed in the 80th minute. Birmingham won a rare corner, and when the ball rebounded to Gardner from Rose’s block, he fired an unstoppable shot through a crowd of players with his left-foot from 25 yards. After half-an-hour in the bottom three, Birmingham were out of danger — but not for long.
Within minutes the news came though that Wigan and Wolves had both scored goals to lift themselves out of trouble and put Birmingham back in the bottom three.
With time running, out, McLeish urged his men forward for the goal that would have saved them.
Instead Pavlyuchenko struck the killer blow in stoppage time.
The Russian striker received the ball 25yards from goal and hit a shot that flew up and over Foster, clipping the underside of the bar as it went in. There was barely time to restart the game as Birmingham realised they were finally down, completing a remarkable season — the Carling Cup, entry into Europe for the first time and relegation.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved