Harry Redknapp has seen more comebacks than Frank Sinatra this season but was last night cursing the dramatic late intervention of Craig Gardner.
Spurs have become known as the comeback kings this term and Gardner gave him a taste of their own medicine to save Birmingham. He levelled nine minutes from time to frustrate the Spurs manager and leave him again fearing it will be the defence that ruins an unlikely title bid. Sébastien Bassong had given Spurs the lead after 19 minutes and they looked on course to become only the second visitors to win here in 15 months. But Gardner rewarded Birmingham's late pressure with an emphatic header.
Redknapp is still waiting for his first clean sheet in the Premier League since the opening day of the season, and he knows it is wrecking his dream of a crack at challenging the likes of Chelsea.
He said: "Not only did I think we would win this game today, by half-time I was sure of it. We had enough chances before then to win the game. But give Birmingham credit – they gave everything for their manager and got something out of the game."
Spurs had only won once outside the capital before yesterday and Birmingham's excellent record at their fortress must have made Redknapp fear a frustrating afternoon. However, the visitors were ahead after 19 minutes following a moribund start.
Inevitably, it was Gareth Bale who was involved as he bent over a delicious free-kick from the right that created panic and Ben Foster's failed punch allowed Bassong to show off a swift turn for a centre-half, before hammering home as the Blues' defence stood motionless.
McLeish had admitted earlier in the season that a successful cup run would be rendered irrelevant if his team suffered relegation. That fate appears unlikely although the compact nature of the Premier League at this stage ensures Birmingham are still peering nervously over their shoulders at the drop zone.
Their lung-busting efforts against the old enemy in the Carling Cup on Wednesday night clearly affected them in the early stages. McLeish opted for a five-man midfield in an attempt to eradicate the threat of Bale and it was not until the 33rd minute that the hosts produced their first snarl of defiance, with Gardner arrowing a 20-yard drive inches wide.
Gardner was involved in a needless clash with Wilson Palacios soon after, appearing to aim a tame kick at the back of the midfielder.
The second period yielded no improvement in fortune from Birmingham, with Gardner heading a Liam Ridgewell cross straight at Heurelho Gomes. Redknapp named two goalkeepers, Carlo Cudicini and Stipe Pletikosa, on the bench after an injuryto David Bentley on Friday but not even Gomes was required for most of the afternoon.
And Spurs had chances to ease the need for nailbiting with Crouch and Jermain Defoe both wastefully placing efforts wide. Bale cleverly manoeuvred himself some space in the 72nd minute to bamboozle Stephen Carr but Foster redeemed his earlier error with a fine reflex save from the Welshman's fierce drive.
Gomes, finally, was called into action late on and did brilliantly to deny Ridgewell from close range. He was powerless, however, to deny Gardner. The Birmingham midfielder had appeared the one player capable of unsettling Spurs and he was in the right place to nod into the corner from Nikola Zigic's headed cross.
McLeish said: "The Villa game took unbelievable energy out of us, it was an emotional night.
"Harry might have thought we were here for the taking after that, we were tired and a lot of players running on empty. The one thing that we can't deny is our phenomenal spirit. We've got a reputation here at St Andrew's and at half-time I told them to preserve that."
Referee: Kevin Friend
Man of the match: Modric
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content