Needing the double whammy of victory over Maribor and a Braga win against Club Brugge in order to reach the knockout stages of the Europa League, Birmingham kept their half of the bargain only for the Portuguese club to snatch second place in Group H by drawing in Belgium.
Inspired by 17-year-old Nathan Redmond, who capped a dazzling display with a brutal 85th-minute volley against the inside of a post, the Championship's 13th-placed team prevailed through Adam Rooney's goal only to bow out due to the lack of a second Portuguese goal in the other Group H game.
Chris Hughton's team selection surprisingly suggested he set greater store by City's next domestic fixture, at Crystal Palace on Monday. Only Curtis Davies and David Murphy kept their places after the weekend win over Doncaster, although one of the replacements was Redmond, who lifted the crowd and team-mates alike with his touchline trickery.
Murphy, with a 25-yard free-kick that clipped Dalibor Volas and landed on the roof of the net, almost rewarded home dominance before Redmond conjured a goal midway through the first half. Skipping nonchalantly past the lunging Brazilian, Arghus, he looked up and picked out the run by Rooney, whose cushioned header from four yards was his first goal since August.
News of a goal for the home side in Bruges, where Braga were reduced to 10 men by a first-half red card, added to a deflated atmosphere early in the second half. Almost inevitably it was Birmingham's youngest player, Redmond, who showed the desire and the quality to rise above the gloom, a fierce angled shot testing the agility of Jasmin Handanovic.
A nasty challenge on Redmond by Arghus spoke volumes for the teenager's impact, leading to a melee of players and a booking for the defender. Word of a Braga equaliser in Belgium livened the fans and produced the pressure which saw Davies inexplicably fail to connect with a free header from a Redmond corner. But in the end there was to be no miracle in Bruges – or Birmingham.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Doyle; Spector, Pablo Ibanez, Davies, Murphy; Redmond (Burke, 88), Gomis (N'Daw, 73), Fahey, Beausejour; Zigic, Rooney (Mutch, 79).
NK Maribor (4-4-1-1): Handanovic; Potokar, Vidovic, Rajcevic, Arghus (Trajkovski, 75); Mezga, Mertelj, Filipovic, Cvijanovic (Ibraimi, 68); Marcos Tavares (Velikonja, 71) ; Volas.
Referee S Kever (Switzerland).Reuse content