Gardner on the spot to throw spanner into City title march
Birmingham City 2
Manchester City 2
Published 03/02/2011 | 05:00
There is no shame in coming to St Andrew's and being held to a draw, but by the time this well-fought match ended, the cameras were going in for ominous close-ups of Roberto Mancini's eyes. Manchester City now trail Manchester United by eight points: the title has all but slipped away.
On this evidence, it is doubtful they would deserve it anyway. Carlos Tevez got them off to the perfect start, but non-stop Birmingham pressure proved too much. Nikola Zigic equalised, and then Craig Gardner's penalty cancelled out Alexandar Kolarov's free-kick.
Micah Richards fell victim to his own bravery as he defended his area, while the less said about Joe Hart, the better. The goalkeeper's nerves were clearly contagious where his defenders were concerned.
Mancini was no doubt aware of the need to keep up with the other occupants of the top four, who all added three points this week, so he started Tevez despite suggestions the Argentine would not play.
He certainly seemed to be moving freely as he flicked the ball to David Silva inside four minutes, catching Birmingham on the hop and getting the away side off to the best possible start.
Silva could play a flute with his feet, and he had no difficulty shimmying past Johnson in the area, and returning the ball to Tevez, who clipped his shot across Ben Foster and into the corner.
Birmingham are nothing if not born triers, though, and Mancini will have known they had fought back from behind in their last two games.
The last thing he wanted was to be dragged into a bar fight, which was exactly what happened when Zigic met David Bentley's low free-kick -- won when Jerome Boateng fouled Martin Jiranek -- a fraction before a sluggish Hart and sneaked it through the goalkeeper's guard.
Responding to increasing pressure from Birmingham, Richards had resorted to a suicidal dive to head clear of his area, reaching the ball but crashing into Nigel de Jong. The force of the collision spun the defender in mid-air, paramedics rushing to him before carrying him off on a stretcher six minutes later.
Strangely, such episodes have a tendency to galvanise. When Aaron Ramsey had his leg snapped at Stoke last season, his Arsenal team-mates were stung into a red-hot response and found two goals. Manchester City put any squeamishness aside when Craig Gardner brought down Dzeko, and Kolarov bent his free-kick well into the bottom corner.
Being behind seems to suit Birmingham. With Hart looking increasingly unsteady, the home side redoubled their efforts to find Zigic with aerial balls.
It left Mancini, who could not be accused of hiding his feelings, fizzing like potassium in water, even more so when referee Kevin Friend chose to ignore the contact when the ball kissed Stephen Carr's arm in the Birmingham area. Just the environment for Kevin Phillips, then.
McLeish sent him on for Cameron Jerome, and the 37 year-old made his mark soon after, using all his experience to lure Patrick Vieira into a crude body-check in the area.
Gardner drilled his penalty into the roof of the net. A draw was the least Birmingham deserved. (© Daily Telegraph, London)