Birmingham City’s preparations for the automatic promotion decider at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday suffered a blow yesterday after it was confirmed that influential midfielder Lee Bowyer will be suspended for three games.

The club appealed against Bowyer’s sending off against Preston North End on Saturday but the submission was rejected by an Football Association regulatory commission.

Bowyer, currently on loan from West Ham United, was given his marching orders by referee Phil Dowd along with Preston’s Lee Williamson after the two midfielders were involved in a needless tussle on the hour mark of Saturday’s match at St Andrew’s. Preston have also had their appeal against Williamson’s dismissal turned down.

It now means that Bowyer, a vital cog in Alex McLeish’s machine since arriving in January, will be suspended for Sunday’s make-or-break trip to Reading.

Should Birmingham’s promotion hopes be forced into the lottery of the Championship play-offs, then Bowyer will also be banned for the two-legged semi-final but would be eligible for a possible Wembley decider on May 25.

The FA’s decision to reject a Birmingham appeal against a red card for the second time in as many weeks, following Maik Taylor’s dismissal against Plymouth Argyle on Easter Monday, has left manager McLeish disappointed.

“Lee was told by the referee that he had been sent off for headbutting and the official appeared to indicate that at the time of the dismissal,” said McLeish.

“We put forward our reasons in the form of statements and DVD evidence as to why we felt that wasn’t the case.

“However, it seems the FA have now said it was for a wider range of things, including the tussle, and our appeal was rejected.

“We are disappointed with the decision but are grateful to the FA for hearing the appeal and now have to get on with things despite losing the services of a key member of our squad.”

On the subject of referees, it has been confirmed that Howard Webb will be in charge for Birmingham’s match-up at Reading on Sunday, an announcement that will produce mixed feelings in the Blues camp.

Webb, who will be in charge of this year’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Everton, was at the centre of controversy at Old Trafford on Saturday during the Premier League clash between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. The South Yorkshire official wrongly awarded the hosts a penalty after judging that Heurelho Gomes had fouled Michael Carrick.

However, Webb is remembered in these parts for the self-confessed ‘lowest point of his career’ when he last took charge of a Birmingham City match.

During the FA Cup third round tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers at St Andrew’s in January, Webb accidentally deflected a Radhi Jaidi pass to set up a quick break from which Sam Vokes scored to wrap up a 2-0 win for the visitors.

The Fifa-listed official, who also missed a stonewall penalty for a foul against Marcus Bent in that same fixture, later admitted: “I am disappointed to have an influence on a goal like that and it is probably the lowest point of my professional refereeing career.”

Meanwhile, Reading winger Glen Little looks set to miss the promotion showdown with Blues through injury.

The 33-year-old, who is on loan from Portsmouth, limped out of Monday’s 2-0 win at Norwich City with a hamstring problem and is unlikely to be involved in the vital Madejski Stadium clash.