Birmingham City 2 Newcastle Utd 2: Larsson gives Blues reason to be cheerful

Bendtner blow casts shadow over valiant display
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The Independent Football

Steve Bruce was left not knowing if he should laugh or cry after this stirring, quintessential FA Cup tie, embroidered by incidents and a late Sebastian Larsson equaliser that claimed a well-deserved draw for his 10 valiant Championship men against their Premiership visitors.

His team did him proud, but he lost two through injury, including a serious ankle problem that may have removed Nicklas Bendtner, his talismanic striker, from his promotion plans for some weeks. Bruce was left to plot a raid on the boardroom to enlarge his transfer kitty. "You can understand why I am grey now," he lamented. "I thought I might need one more striker, but it might be two."

Bruce had seen his team dominate the opening half, take a merited 15th-minute lead when DJ Campbell jabbed in after Matthew Upson had headed a Larsson corner back across goal, and then throw that advantage away. Sloppy defending allowed Steven Taylor to equalise from a James Milner corner before Radhi Jaidi, who wrestled the speedy Obafemi Martins to the ground as he sprinted clear on goal, was sent off moments before the interval. Birmingham were lucky the referee, Mike Dean, awarded Newcastle a free-kick and not a penalty.

Reduced to 10 men, and already deprived of Stephen Kelly, who suffered a calf injury in the opening half, Bruce was forced to take off Campbell at the interval, because he had a neck ache, and then lost Bendtner, who was carried off on a stretcher after 71 minutes. "He fell down a hole in the pitch," said Bruce.

The grass surface, a stodgy seasonal pudding, was already condemned to be lifted and removed today, but claimed a final precious victim, which could upset the Championship leaders' progress back to a place among the elite.

Newcastle, also ravaged by injuries that forced Glenn Roeder to field a youthful and makeshift back four that featured the Peruvian midfielder Nolberto Solano at right-back, were aroused by words at the interval and responded. Antoine Sibier-ski, suffering from flu, was withdrawn, Kieron Dyer was pushed forward, and the latter latched on to a pass from Martins to fire beneath Maik Taylor. At 2-1 they looked certain winners.

But Newcastle, a club of great FA Cup pedigree, failed to score again, struggled to contain the surges that carried Birmingham into waves of attack and capitulated when Damien Johnson crossed from the left, Neil Danns headed on and Larsson, one of three Arsenal players on loan at Birmingham, volleyed beyond Shay Given.

"We were a goal ahead against 10 men with five minutes remaining and we should have seen the game out," said Roeder. "In fact, I think we should have been out of sight by then.

"That equaliser showed our inexperience, but at least we have another FA Cup tie to play in front of our own supporters and we are in the fourth-round draw." Mindful of the appeal of this competition to the six-time winners' fans, and his own need to deliver a trophy, Roeder praised the 4,000 who suffered yesterday's incessant rain as "absolutely wonderful".

Bruce was more circumspect when it was pointed out to him that only 16,444 spectators turned out in a 30,000 capacity stadium for such an attractive Cup tie. "It was a fantastic game, but people just can't afford it any more and something has to be done," he said. And with that he marched towards his directors. "I'm lucky here that the owners have got a few quid," he said.