Huckerby leaves the Blues fearful of the drop zone

Birmingham City 1 Norwich City 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It might not be the best-kept secret in football but, based on the evidence of their disintegration against a persistent Norwich City side, Birmingham City must improve dramatically if they are not to be sucked further into a battle for Premiership survival.

It might not be the best-kept secret in football but, based on the evidence of their disintegration against a persistent Norwich City side, Birmingham City must improve dramatically if they are not to be sucked further into a battle for Premiership survival.

Take nothing away from Norwich, who came from a goal down to grind out their ninth League draw of the season and proved they will fight tooth and nail to beat the drop, but Birmingham simply should have been home and dry by the time Darren Huckerby equalised for the visitors in the 64th minute.

More alarming for Birmingham than the futility in front of goal and subsequent fragility at the back was the fact that, as soon as Norwich came out of their shell in the second half and embroiled them in a serious contest, confidence simply drained away.

Such a worrying verdict on Birmingham's Premiership hopes seemed unthinkable after an opening half that they completely dominated. Emile Heskey, Robbie Savage and Darren Anderton ran rampant and penned back a Norwich side robbed of midfield talisman Damien Francis, sidelined with a fractured cheekbone.

Clinton Morrison headed Birmingham ahead on nine minutes. Excellent work from Mario Melchiot on the right ended in an Anderton cross to the far post and Heskey rose to loop a header goalwards. Robert Green, the Norwich goalkeeper, back-pedalled and tipped on to the crossbar but Morrison was on hand to head home his first Premiership goal of the season.

The goal galvanised Birmingham, and Morrison, Heskey and Anderton all came close to extending the home side's lead before the break. Even after half-time, when the outstanding but ill Melchiot was replaced by Jesper Gronkjaer, the home side dominated and Heskey twice went close to scoring.

But the game changed when Leon McKenzie was introduced for the visitors five minutes into the second period and, with a midfield rejig, Norwich began to contest the game rather than simply soak up pressure. Within five minutes they were level, David Bentley making the most of Maik Taylor's flap at an Adam Drury centre to provide Huckerby with a cross that saw him drill home from close range.

The goal saw the home side fall apart. Short passes went astray, moves broke down and tackles were missed. Huckerby had two chances to give Norwich their first away win of the season as nerves saw the game swing from end to end.

"I think that was harsh," said Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, after his team were booed off. "But it doesn't help when the supporters get on your back. It should have been over at half-time.

"Our supporters are a bit nervous and a bit jittery and that rubs off on the players. We have to realise we are bang in the middle of 10 teams who will be fighting it out at the end of the season, and who says we have a divine right not to be in that group?"

Comments