Newcastle United 1 Birmingham City 0
Luck plays a strange role in sport. Successful teams aren't just good, they appear to be lucky as well.
That success breeds luck in a self-perpetuating motion is a belief that has sustained sportsmen and women for an age.
Luck drives teams on because they believe that, no matter what happens, they will triumph in the end. It is based upon no logic and yet, as with fate, has been a part of sporting history since the ancient Greeks.
Destiny, fate, luck are viewed as something that either goes for you or against you. In all walks of life, it explains the chance happenings that no amount of training, practice, confidence or natural talent can explain.
A good team is a lucky team, it's that simple.
Unfortunately for Birmingham City, they are on the flip side of the deal. Recently, they haven't been very good and, boy, have they been unlucky?
Thomas Jefferson was of the opinion that the harder he worked, the luckier he became. If only that were true for Blues. If work rate were all it took to earn luck, then they would be flying high without a care in the world.
That they aren't must make them the exception to Jefferson's rule and yet, for 78 minutes on Tyneside on Saturday, they looked like a team that was favoured by luck.
With five men strung across midfield, Blues worked tirelessly to deny the home side a chance to settle and frustrated them to such an extent that, for the first hour, Graeme Sounness' men could
not muster a serious shot at goal.
Matthew Upson and Martin Taylor were rocks at the heart of the defence, denying £32 million worth of strikeforce time and space all afternoon. When Newcastle United did press and Alan Shearer (£15 million) or Michael Owen (£17 million) looked like getting a break, the ball fell to a Blues player who hacked it clear.
Following a first half in which the most inventive thing from either side was Stan Lazaridis's swan dive in the Newcastle penalty area that earned him a booking, but only 4.3 for artistic impression, Blues more than matched their hosts in the second half. For the majority of it, they were the better side.
Steve Bruce's men were heading happily towards a well-earned point that would have done much to lift the clouds that have gathered over St Andrew's. Then luck took a hand and poor Maik Taylor who, until recently, was favoured by good fortune, dropped his second clanger in two weeks and the game changed.
Untroubled for more than an hour, the most work the City goalkeeper had done all afternoon was to save an Emre cross--shot in the first half.
A strike by the same player 12 minutes from time, though, proved to be Taylor's and Blues' undoing. After Owen and Shola Ameobi had eschewed the responsibility of a shot, Emre's well-hit 18-yard drive went through a crowd of players and through Taylor as well.
Those who condemn talk of luck and fate will point to Birmingham's wastefulness in front of goal as the reason for their lowly status.
Bruce's men did miss several opportunities, most notably an Upson header from six yards and a Heskey shot that went straight at Shay Given in the Newcastle goal. A stunning 40-yard strike from Jiri Jarosik thumped Given's goalpost and, had Frank Lampard hit it, it would have deigned to go in.
Birmingham, though, were far more inventive in the second half than for most of the last three months.
The return of Muzzy Izzet gave them a drive from midfield and the steel that has been lacking. Neil Kilkenny was again impressive and, as Bruce said, if he continues to develop, the club have a ' special talent' on their hands.
Very few teams will come to Newcastle and dominate. That Birmingham did, and still conspired to lose, shows just how far Bruce's side have fallen. They are suffering the fate of many sides who have found themselves near the bottom. Plenty of effort, no luck, little reward.
Blues have failed to win in their last 11 games and, more worryingly for Bruce, haven't scored for the last five. He is 'fed up with hard-luck stories'. He has pinned his hopes on the return of several key players from injury but even here, Bruce is in the hands of the fates. A setback here, an injury there and he will be back to where he started.
Fate is a fickle mistress, Bruce may be reduced to hoping she doesn't conspire against him much longer, or he will need more than luck to extricate Blues from their lowly position.