Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 June 2017

Blues' record in safe hands with Foster

BIRMINGHAM 2
BLACKBURN 1

Eleanor Crooks

Birmingham boss Alex McLeish believes Ben Foster will provide a stern challenge to Joe Hart for the goalkeeping jersey in England's opening Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Switzerland next month after his stunning display in yesterday's 2-1 victory over Blackburn.

The 27-year-old -- a £6m signing from Manchester United this summer -- saved Morten Gamst Pedersen's penalty and pulled off a number of other impressive stops to ensure the Blues maintained an unbeaten home run that stretches back to last September.

"Foster was excellent," said the Scot. "The first home game and he's saved us points already. It's a brilliant start for him, he made the most brilliant penalty save. If it's him and Joe Hart that are vying for the England jersey at the next internationals, I think Joe's in pole position at the moment but with performances like that it's going to be a great battle between two great young goalkeepers." McLeish is in a good position to judge, having taken Hart on loan from Manchester City last season.

Despite Foster's heroics, it was Rovers who took the lead in the 54th minute through Steven Nzonzi's header before Craig Gardner became Birmingham's second hero of the day with two goals in 14 minutes, leaving Rovers boss Sam Allardyce a frustrated man.

"Ben Foster won them the game with his outstanding saves and our inability to convert chances into goals," said Allardyce. "We've completely dominated the game, created far more chances than Birmingham but failed to take them. And to boot we go and throw it all away."

There was a debut for man in the middle Michael Oliver, who at 25 became the youngest referee in Premier League history. Oliver had little to do in a dire first half, but the rookie referee became the centre of attention five minutes after the break when he spotted Nikola Zigic pulling Christopher Samba's shirt and awarded a penalty. Pedersen struck it well but Foster did brilliantly to tip it onto the angle of post and bar.

Rovers were not to be denied however, and after Foster had saved an effort from Nzonzi, the same player got his head to the resulting corner to put the visitors ahead 54 minutes in. It was a deserved lead but it lasted only three minutes as a long ball from Stephen Carr picked out James McFadden, who showed superb control to volley the ball into the path of Gardner.

Nikola Kalinic hit the post with a free header from six yards for Rovers but it was Gardner who struck the winner with 19 minutes left as a speculative effort from 30 yards bounced in front of Robinson and into the far corner.

Sunday Independent

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