Football: Birmingham pay for profligacy

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The Independent Online
Birmingham City 0 Charlton Athletic 0

IT WAS an anticlimactic afternoon at St Andrew's, where a goalless draw meant that neither side achieved their promotion ambitions. Charlton, hoping for automatic elevation into the Premiership, needed a victory and defeats for Middlesbrough and Sunderland. But Alan Curbishley's side at least have the huge consolation of contesting the play-offs, a prize Birmingham were cruelly denied. The home side drew level on points with sixth-placed Sheffield United, but their record of goals scored fell five short of the Blades.

Their leading scorer, Paul Furlong, twice hit the woodwork as Charlton were subjected to intense second-half pressure. The Charlton goalkeeper, Sasa Ilic, made excellent saves from Furlong, Peter Ndlovu and Martin O'Connor, but the home side were also guilty of some very wayward finishing.

It is ironic that the Birmingham manager, Trevor Francis, a prolific goalscorer during a distinguished playing career which began at St Andrew's, has created a team whose defence is the tightest in the division but whose profligacy in front of goal has cost them their promotion chance.

"It was the same story today that we have seen so many times this season," Francis said. "We had 18 attempts at goal compared to Charlton's five, but a combination of missed opportunities and marvellous goalkeeping cost us."

Charlton are now set to face Ipswich in the play-off semi- final, but they will need to be sharper than they were in this match. They created only one real chance, a 35th-minute free header which Mark Bright forced just wide.

They spent most of the afternoon on the back foot but, thanks largely to Ilic, who has now kept seven successive clean sheets to break the Charlton record of the legendary Sam Bartram, the visitors held on for a result which pleased Curbishley.

"We were determined to end the season as strong as possible, even though we knew that Middlesbrough and Sunderland would probably both win to leave us in the play-offs," he said. "If Sasa had not made three or four great saves we would have lost, but he did his job and the back four also gave everything.

"It's tough to have finished on 88 points and not gain automatic promotion, but we will be going to Ipswich in good heart on the back of a very solid performance here."

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Poole; Gill (Purse, 65), Bruce, Johnson, Charlton; McCarthy (Hughes, 73), O'Connor, Marsden, Ndlovu; Furlong (Forster, 80), Adebola.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Ilic; Mills, Rufus, Youds, Bowen; Newton, Kinsella, Jones, Heaney (Balmer, 59); Bright (Lisbie, 71), Mendonca. Substitute not used: Brown.

Referee: R J Harris (Oxford).

Booked: Charlton: Rufus, Newton, Heaney, Kinsella.

Man of the match: Chris Marsden (Birmingham).

Attendance: 25,877.

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