Birmingham 1 Everton 1: Zarate draws comfort for Blues after turbulent week

By Jim Foulerton at St Andrew's
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The Independent Online

Mauro Zarate brings a smile to your face which, as a harrowing week looked to be taking a turn for the worse, was what Birmingham and their manager Alex McLeish needed. Trailing against the run of play to Joleon Lescott's second-half header, substitute Zarate struck an exquisite free-kick seven minutes from the end.

It was not all good news because Bolton's win against West Ham moved them to within two points of Birmingham. Still, Zarate's fourth goal since joining on loan in January, could prove vital in their relegation fight. For Everton, Uefa Cup football looks more likely than the Champions' League.

Birmingham's need was the greater, especially given their off-field distractions. David Sullivan, the co-owner has denied any wrongdoing by himself and Karren Brady, the managing director, after their arrest on Wednesday by City of London Police investigating conspiracy to defraud and false accounting.

They were later released on bail and Brady was at yesterday's game as expected. McLeish was focusing only on the football. "It could be a very important point," he said. "It was a cruel blow to go behind as we played some terrific football in the second half. A draw was the least we deserved." McLeish's opposite number David Moyes said: "I thought when we got the goal we would hang on but Birmingham had one or two chances and their equaliser was very well taken. We want to make sure of fifth place, although we will keep going for fourth."

McLeish selected James McFadden ahead of Zarate in the hope that the Scotland international would shake off the effects of keyhole knee surgery to inflict a wound on his former club. McLeish paid £6m for McFadden in January and given Everton's injury problems – Mikel Arteta and Leon Osman were missing yesterday along with long-term casualty James Vaughan and Tim Cahill – Moyes may wish he had kept him.

McFadden set up Birmingham's only first-half chance with a lofted pass but Cameron Jerome headed against the post. Earlier, Liam Ridgewell nearly gifted Everton an opener when his second-minute clearance slammed into Andrew Johnson, but the ball ricocheted wide.

Everton should have taken the lead after 19 minutes when Steven Pienaar's back-header was left by both Ridgewell and Stephen Kelly. Lescott stole in but hit the side-netting. Ridgewell inexplicably missed from five yards out after Gary McSheffrey's corner came off Phil Neville's head. "That was a key miss," McLeish said.

McFadden had a free-kick easily dealt with by Tim Howard but soon the American had to be at his best. He tipped away an excellent effort by Radhi Jaidi, whose hooked shot was heading for the corner of the net. McFadden was first to the rebound but his close-range shot was parried by the keeper.

Zarate replaced McFadden and almost immediately Everton went ahead. Manuel Fernandes's short corner found Lee Carsley and his chipped cross was headed towards goal by Yakubu, Lescott turning it in with a flick of his own head.

Zarate restored parity after causing Carsley to handle outside the area and then curling the subsequent free-kick away from Howard and into the top left corner. "I saw a gathering around the ball, as I think a few of them fancied it," said McLeish. "But I made sure [David] Murphy let Zarate know that I wanted him to take it." Birmingham are still on message.

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