What can you say? A few minutes away from a famous victory against an increasingly desperate team resorting to intimidation only to have two of the three points snatched away. A neutral might say that both sides had the opportunities to win the game and both sides failed to take most of them, with over the whole game a draw perhaps a fair result. Birmingham could have been clear in the first five minutes and didn’t score from the spot; having gone ahead we hit the post and had another good chance to double our lead. But we’re not neutrals and nothing matters at the moment than an equaliser which has left us right up against it.
Bowyer opted for what looked like a straight 4-4-2 with Doughty in at left-back to replace Oshilaja, while in midfield Cullen and Field were paired in the central slots, Pratley on the bench, with McGeady and Williams the wider men, while Hemed and Bonne resumed what we hoped would be a burgeoning partnership with the addition of goals up front.
We started in awful fashion, nervous and disjointed, and Birmingham had maybe three good scoring opportunities in the first five minutes, with Doughty caught out for one of them. It could have been game over before we’d got into any sort of stride. But unlike against Reading we managed to get through that period without conceding and we did begin to come into it more, with Doughty, McGeady and Williams causing them problems, even though the front two were winning nothing in the air. Remarkably Williams went over with his first two touches and the ref gave nothing, although normal service was soon resumed. And after about 15 minutes we had a great chance to open the scoring, with Matthews whipping in the cross from the right and Williams just failing to get something on it at the far post.
Around the half-hour and it was looking evenly balanced, but then we gifted them a golden opportunity to take the lead. Cullen had the ball at his feet outside our box but seemed to get knocked off balance and ended up prodding it back, into the path of their forward. Phillips came out to try to cover and the ball was prodded over him, looked to me like it was being shepherded out for a goal kick. But their guy’s momentum took him into Phillips and he managed to leave something trailing as he jumped over and duly went to ground. For me it wasn’t a penalty but the ref saw it differently, giving Phillips a yellow. I fail to see exactly what he could have done to get out of the way, other than to stand and watch their guy put it into the net.
There was some justice as Phillips plunged to his right and blocked the spot kick. The rebound looked like a sitter but their guy couldn’t get over it and lofted it over the bar. Great save but also an enormous let-off in a game in which the first goal was always going to be crucial.
We saw it through to the break and it was still all to play for. We might have scored once or twice but after our poor start and a penalty miss we were well aware that things could have been a lot worse.
The second half started with another escape for us as Phillips pulled off a blinding save from a shot through a crowd of players. But it was us who broke the deadlock, around the hour mark, with a truly splendid, well-worked goal. Williams did well to keep possession on our left side and played a ball forward inside their defender for Doughty to run on to. He managed to get there, took it to the by-line and squared it, creating a tap-in for Bonne.
When the screaming died down we had something tangible to hold onto, although not surprisingly Birmingham raised the tempo in response, making a couple of changes. Aneke came on for Hemed and soon after we came within a whisker of extending our lead as more good work down the left ended with the ball squared to McGeady, who cut inside and stroked one which may have taken a deflection off their defender but ended up coming back off the post. And not long after another good chance went begging as Bonne found himself with another cross to convert only this time the goalkeeper was there to parry. One of those where as a fellow Addick commented you wanted him to put the ball, himself and the keeper into the net.
As the clocked ticked down it was Birmingham getting more desperate – and more violent. Challenges were now being made with something left in, including what looked like a clearly swung elbow into Lockyer’s face, leaving him bleeding from the nose. The ref chose to have seen nothing. We brought on Morgan, Pratley and Purrington for Williams, Field and Doughty and with Birmingham relying on long throws it was backs to the wall.
Nevertheless, we were two minutes into seven minutes of stoppage time before the cruel blow. Phillips parried a shot at the near post and it went to their big guy, the one I think who’d left Lockyer bleeding and went away unpunished, who scuffed something which ended up nestling in the far corner.
There was never much chance of us being able to threaten a second in the time left and Birmingham were reasonably content to take a point, one which for so long had looked beyond them. They emerge from the game knowing they may already have enough points and certain that another two would see them survive. We all know what that late equaliser means for us. We now surely have to beat Wigan on Saturday, with Hull playing Luton.
We were hard done by tonight but there were times when we could easily have been behind, not just the penalty. Having got in front we hit the post and had another chance to seal the win. Instead just when we were starting to think of being two places higher it was taken away from us, by a team which deserved nothing for their conduct when they started to get desperate. Let’s see what the world looks like in the morning because we are going to have to go again on Saturday, against a team which in terms of form is on fire but which also knows that if they lose to us they will probably be relegated.