John earns Birmingham just reward

Blackburn Rovers 1 Birmingham City 1
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An 11th goal of the season in his 100th Blackburn appearance neither answered the questions hanging over the future of Andy Cole at Ewood Park nor did enough to end Rovers' season with a third consecutive home win as, not for the first time, manager Graeme Souness railed against the perceived injustices of a "frustrating" season.

An 11th goal of the season in his 100th Blackburn appearance neither answered the questions hanging over the future of Andy Cole at Ewood Park nor did enough to end Rovers' season with a third consecutive home win as, not for the first time, manager Graeme Souness railed against the perceived injustices of a "frustrating" season.

In a match that promised more than it could deliver, Birmingham secured the point they probably deserved through substitute Stern John's header after 83 minutes. It was a costly moment for the home club, who would have banked an extra £1m in prize money had they held on. Victory would have seen them finish ahead of Portsmouth and Tottenham.

According to Souness, however, the goal should not have stood. Not known for giving referees the benefit of the doubt when there is a question mark over the validity of a goal against his side, he was adamant that John had won the header by pushing defender Lucas Neill in the back.

"The television replays show Lucas Neill stumbling in a way that makes it pretty obvious he was pushed," Souness said. "It has been like that for us all year and I suppose it was a fitting way to end a frustrating season." He terminated his press conference too soon to reveal any more details of the clear-out he is planning after Blackburn's miserable failure to build on last year's high expectations. Having qualified for Europe this time 12 months ago, their fortunes have contrasted so sharply this season that they were still battling to avoid relegation only two weeks ago.

Their home record of 10 defeats and only five victories is worse even than the 1998-99 season in which they did go down, and Souness will next week tell several of his players to seek employment elsewhere. Cole, his £8m signing from Manchester United, may yet prove to be a high-profile sacrifice.

For Birmingham, the result enabled them to end a top-flight campaign in the top 10 for the first time in 31 years. "It is a tremendous achievement," their manager Steve Bruce said.

Cole struck the opening blow for Blackburn after 24 minutes, holding off Matthew Upson after Tugay Kerimoglu slipped a pass into the penalty area. The forward kept his balance and struck a left-footed shot past Maik Taylor.

Birmingham had gone close through Mikael Forssell and Damien Johnson but Blackburn, with Tugay directing operations in the middle and Michael Gray excellent attacking from left-back, looked as though they had another goal in them. Taylor was pushed to make saves from Cole, Gray and Jon Stead.

However, they were made to regret not putting at least one chance away when Birmingham equalised. Substitute John, rewarding positive changes made by Bruce, headed home Johnson's cross at the far post.

Blackburn Rovers 1
Cole 24

Birmingham City 1
John 83

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 26,070

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