Football: Millwall happy with point

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The Independent Online
Birmingham City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Millwall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

A POINT apiece in the St Andrews drizzle did not significantly improve either side's position last night. Millwall lost ground in the pursuit of Newcastle at the top of the First Division while Birmingham, though relieved to gain a point after three successive defeats by clubs below them, needed victory to ease their relegation blues.

Mick McCarthy, the Millwall manager, insisted he was happy, especially in view of Newcastle's defeat. 'They've still got to come to us and West Ham, so there will be a few bums twitching on Tyneside,' he said. 'Newcastle can only throw it away - but we are playing for two automatic promotion places rather than one now.'

Birmingham, up for sale with debts of pounds 2m, went into the match having won only three of their last 23 League games. Millwall, building a new super-stadium, boasted a record of six wins in 10. But the first chance went to the hosts in the 12th minute, when John Gayle's stooping header was cleared off the line.

They were again out of luck in the 20th minute. Graham Potter's cross reached Paul Tait, who swivelled and shot, only to see the ball come back off a post. Simon Sturridge slipped as he followed up.

While Birmingham were always purposeful, they lacked poise. When Sturridge was obstructed by Keith Stevens, John Frain drove the indirect free-kick pointlessly over the bar. They were almost punished on the break again when Jon Goodman's shot rebounded to safety off an upright.

The lively Gayle, who cut his footballing teeth with Wimbledon, epitomised Birmingham's willingness to battle. He even tried an overhead kick after 49 minutes, the ball going harmlessly wide, and eight minutes later dispossessed Stevens before his touch let him down barely six yards from goal.

illwall tightened up at the back after the interval, but did not threaten Gosney's goal until the 65th minute. Jamie Moralee then skipped past two challenges and attempted to chip the keeper, though without the requisite accuracy. The hitherto anonymous Moralee promptly had another go, his rising drive passing a yard wide.

Goodman was on target from a tricky angle in the 67th minute, but the ball cannoned off Gosney's legs. Birmingham had run out of puff, and looked happy to settle for a stalemate. They play Portsmouth at home on Saturday, which Terry Cooper claimed suited him. 'Their win against Newcastle is good news,' the Birmingham manager said, adding with a grin: 'Now they'll be complacent when they come to us.'

Birmingham City: Gosney; Holmes, Potter, Rennie, Mardon, Matthewson, Sturridge (Sale, 74), Gayle (Fenwick, 85), Peschisolido, Tait, Frain.

Millwall: Keller; Rae (McLeary, 79), Dawes, May, Cooper, Stevens, Roberts, Moralee, Bogie, Goodman, Barber. Substitute not used: Allen.

Referee: R Gifford (Mid-Glamorgan).

Stephen Pears, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper, needed an X-ray on his skull after being concussed during last night's 2-0 Premier League defeat at Sheffield United.