at St Andrew’s
You can prepare for most things in football but no training ground routine can prevent basic human error.
That is what almost lost and eventually won Birmingham this match at St Andrew’s on Saturday afternoon.
Liam Ridgewell, previously the butt of Birmingham fans’ jokes but now a laughing matter for Aston Villa supporters due to his occasional mistakes, produced his first slip-up of the season.When the centre-back failed to deal with a punt forward by Nicky Bailey and allowed Andy Gray to muscle his way through to fire Charlton into a 2-1 first-half lead, it looked as though things were about to go from bad to worse for Birmingham.
That was until Chartlon goalkeeper Nicky Weaver suddenly forgot how to catch a ball in a thoroughly entertaining, and slightly baffling, ten-minute period after half-time. Kevin Phillips, making his 500th career appearance, and Franck Queudrue benefited from Weaver’s mishaps and Birmingham returned to winning ways and to remain second in the Championship.
However, even after Queudrue’s 54th-minute winner, it was far from plain sailing for the home side as they were down to ten men following on-loan Nigel Quashie’s sending-off for a second bookable offence.
A special offer of £10 per ticket was money well spent for the vast majority of the 20,071 crowd. The Tilton Road End viewed a comedy of errors that were almost as hilarious as watching Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes in action.
The day had started brilliantly for Birmingham as James McFadden continued to show why the general consensus is that he is playing in the wrong tier of English football.
In the 13th minute a cleared corner fell to the Scotland international on the edge of the 18-yard area and he casually flicked the ball over Hameur Bouazza before directing a wonderful, curling effort through a crowd into the far corner of the net.
So far so good until Sebastian Larsson’s shortly-taken free kick was the wrong option as Birmingham didn’t have many numbers back. So, when Lloyd Sam burst forward, the winger couldn’t help but notice that Bouazza was making good ground in plenty of space on the left flank. Sam switched flanks and Bouazza buried a powerful shot into the top left corner.
Ridgewell’s moment of madness was followed by a fine finish by Gray and Blues were stunned.
Quashe’s first caution, in the 33rd minute, was for reacting angrily to a poor challenge by Sam that further heightened Blues’ frustrations.
The second half started at a fast and furious pace when Phillips swept a Radhi Jaidi cross past the post from close range; at the other end Sam struck the woodwork from a similar distance. However, in the 50th minute, Quashie’s hopeful cross from the left bamboozled Weaver who slipped and dropped to his knees. The goalkeeper could only palm the effort towards the inevitable presence of poacher Phillips who headed a sixth goal this season.
Keeping with the trend, Charlton left-back Kelly Youga slipped a minute later to enable McFadden to round Weaver. But he stumbled as he attempted to direct his effort goalwards.
A testing Phillips header straight at Weaver followed but Birmingham’s winner arrived as Quashie opted to go it alone, cutting in from the left before firing a low shot at Weaver who failed to keep hold of the ball. Queudrue bundled it over the line.
Then Quashie, having celebrated both second-half goals away from his team-mates, made a reckless tackle on Bailey that warranted a yellow card. Birmingham were down to ten.
For the next half-hour even the most optimistic of home fans would have been nervously nibbling their nails.
Lee Carsley produced a match-winning tackle with six minutes remaining. Charlton substitute Svetoslav Todorov looked to only have Maik Taylor to beat but Carsley boldly tracked back to superbly claim the ball. It wasn’t completely one-way traffic. Marcus Bent spun and shot narrowly wide while Larsson made faint claims for a penalty when he fell under the presence of Youga. Birmingham managed to remain error-free and to silence the jeers that had rained down at half time with a hard-earned win.