A thunderous strike from Gus Hamer earned a draw for the Sky Blues against Birmingham City, in a closely-fought contest at St. Andrew’s.
An early penalty was converted by Jeremie Bela after a foul from Sam McCallum. City responded through Cal O’Hare, who improvised to steal the ball from the Birmingham defence, before it found its way to Hamer, who powered City level.
The Sky Blues appeared to dominate the first-half but the opposition rallied after the interval to ensure that the two sides shared the points, once more this season.
A sharp start for City at St. Andrew’s saw Mark Robins’ side through on goal twice before the 5th minute – both early opportunities, denied by the assistant referee’s flag. The game was allowed to play on the second time around, with Viktor Gyokeres seeing his shot from a tight angle deflected inches wide by the recovering defenders. A warning shot for the home side.
A constant threat in behind Birmingham’s backline, City’s good work was undone on 18 minutes, as Sam McCallum challenged for a loose ball in the area. Giving away a penalty, Jeremie Bela succeeding in converting from the spot, powering his shot past Ben Wilson.
City continued to be a final ball short of being through on goal, time and again, but it was the home side who went closest just before the half hour mark. Mikel San Jose met an in-swinging corner with a glancing header that bounced just past the far post.
However, the Sky Blues provided an almost instant reaction, responding ingeniously to draw level on 29 minutes.
With Birmingham captain Harlee Dean ushering the ball out for a goal kick, the in-form Callum O’Hare snuck behind the centre-half to nick the ball near the byline, finding Ben Sheaf in the area. Sheaf was calm in possession, laying the ball off to Gus Hamer in a central position, who scorched the ball into the far corner from 12 yards.
The tempo of the game continued to twist and turn as the first-half neared its conclusion. Birmingham found Scott Hogan with a right-wing cross, but his header was fortunately aimed straight at Wilson.
Obliged to return the favour, Max Biamou beat Aitor Karanka’s offside trap to cross the ball to Gyokeres from the right flank. The Swedish striker’s stooped header looked to be golabound, but Maxime Colin’s vital block prevented City completing their first-half comeback.
The opposition’s confidence appeared rocked after the equaliser, as the Sky Blues succeeded in turning the tide of the game. Giving away multiple free-kicks before the break, Hamer was handed a late chance for a brace. The midfielder fired a low, angled drive towards the near post, which Birmingham ‘keeper Neil Etheridge gratefully clung on to.
HALF-TIME: BIRMINGHAM CITY 1-1 SKY BLUES
City started the second-half as they ended the first. Smart interplay down the left between O’Hare and Sheaf resulted in a promising chance for Sam McCallum. Sheaf found the full-back between Birmingham’s lines with a through ball, but his swivelled effort was blocked by a defender.
Birmingham forced the Sky Blues into some last-ditch defending of their own from Jeremie Bela’s free-kick, with a City man getting the crucial touch on his cross, swung in towards the far post. Moments later, the home side crossed from the right again, with Ivan Sunjic finding Scott Hogan, who blazed his header over the bar.
Several slick-passing moves for Mark Robins’ fell foul of the offside trap, once more, before City fashioned a chance through more unorthodox means. A cross from the left wouldn’t quite settle for Biamou to get a clear shot at goal, before Hamer unleashed a spectacular half-volley off target.
Birmingham continued to carry a threat and perhaps went closest after a defensive mix up between Dom Hyam and Ben Wilson allowed the ball to break to Bela, whilst Wilson sprinted back to his line, but the winger could only steer his shot wide.
Despite the opposition’s relentless crosses, forcing City’s defence into action, the Sky Blues reminded the hosts of their own attacking threat. Finding Gyokeres with a lofted ball, the Swede glanced a header towards his strike partner, Biamou. Making his 100th Sky Blues appearance, City’s latest centurion controlled the ball, but couldn’t properly connect with his side-foot shot to put his team ahead.
Looking to atone for his earlier error, Birmingham captain Harlee Dean had another good opportunity to restore his side’s advantage, after the ball fell to him inside the penalty area, but the defender could only flash his shot wide.
But City were far from settled with a point. Minutes after showing his link up play with Biamou, Gyokeres broke through down the left-wing, opening his body up for a shot on the edge of the area, but his effort was easily gathered by Etheridge.
With 90 minutes on the clock, an excellent save from Ben Wilson ensured a point for the Sky Blues. Jonathan Leko charged down the flank for Birmingham, before the ball fell kindly for fellow substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz. His front post shot from six yards was smothered quickly by the alert Wilson to guarantee City a share of the points.
Yet, there would still be late drama in stoppage time, with City on the edge of stealing a last-minute victory. A deep free-kick from Hamer was headed back across goal at the far post – Jordan Shipley latched on to the header, only to see his first-time, side-foot effort diverted away by some desperate Birmingham defending.
FULL-TIME: BIRMINGHAM CITY 1-1 SKY BLUES
Goals: Jeremie Bela (18’), Gus Hamer (29’)
Yellows: Maxime Colin, Ivan Sunjic, Mikel San Jose, Gus Hamer
Birmingham City XI: Neil Etheridge (GK), Maxime Colin, Mikel San Jose, Harlee Dean (C), Kristian Pedersen, Adam Clayton (Roberts, 46’), Ivan Sunjic (Harper, 78’), Jon Toral (Gardner, 46’), Ivan Sanchez (Leko, 71’), Jeremie Bela, Scott Hogan (Jutkiewicz, 85’)
Unused Subs: Andres Prieto (GK), George Friend, Josh Dacrres-Cogley, Riley McGree
Sky Blues XI: Ben Wilson (GK), Josh Pask, Leo Ostigard, Dom Hyam (C), Sam McCallum, Ben Sheaf (Shipley, 67’), Matty James, Gustavo Hamer, Callum O’Hare, Max Biamou, Viktor Gyokeres