Hull City missed the chance to return to the top of the Championship after slipping to defeat at St Andrew’s, where Jon Toral’s decisive goal boosted Birmingham’s play-off chances.
Steve Bruce’s side will drop out of the automatic promotion places for the first time since early January if Middlesbrough can beat Wolves on Friday night. Anything other than a defeat would have taken Hull top, at least until the weekend, but on-loan Arsenal striker Toral spoiled the script for Hull.
The goal was the first conceded by Hull in 477 minutes of football in all competitions. There was an element of bad luck from their viewpoint, the Spaniard’s strike deflected out of Allan McGregor’s reach by Curtis Davies, but some clever skill by Toral to spin away from Jake Livermore had earned him room to shoot.
Moments earlier, only a determined block by Michael Dawson denied Clayton Donaldson but Hull’s response to going behind was powerful and direct. Indeed, twice in the space of three minutes they were almost level, Livermore rocking Tomasz Kuszczak’s left-hand post with a thunderous shot from 20 yards before Dawson’s header from a free- kick clipped the top of the bar when he probably should have found the net.
But Birmingham’s surges forward were equally productive as the action switched quickly from one end to the other.
Donaldson was thwarted by a crunching tackle from Tom Huddlestone, Sam Clucas squandered another chance to put Hull back on terms by shooting straight at Kuszczak and McGregor stretched to tip a wonderfully-executed overhead kick by Donaldson over the bar. Then Toral was inches away from a second goal, heading wide from David Cotterill’s cross.
Hull dominated possession in the second half and it seemed only a matter of time before Birmingham would yield to the pressure. A double substitution by Bruce after an hour, when he introduced Manchester United loanee Nick Powell and Adama Diomandé, only intensified that pressure. Diomandé missed one clear chance, slicing wide after Powell’s chip forward, then came a strong claim for a penalty when a shot by Abel Hernandez clearly struck Paul Robinson’s hand. The referee, Stephen Martin, waved play on. Kuszczak then made three saves in the space of 90 seconds to deny Livermore, Snodgrass and Clucas.
Birmingham by now were rarely seen outside their own half, although on a rare breakaway there was a chance to extend their lead when Maikel Kieftenbeld played Cotterill in only for the winger’s shot to drift wide. As it is, Toral’s goal put Birmingham one point outside the top six.
Birmingham City (4-2-3-1): Kuszczak; Caddis, Morrison, Robinson, Grounds; Gleeson, Kieftenbeld; Cotterill (Davis, 76), Toral, Maghoma; Donaldson. Substitutes not used Legzdins (gk), Fabbrini, Solomon-Otabor, Spector, Buckley, Shotton.
Hull City (4-4-1-1): McGregor; Odubajo (Elmohamady, 76), Dawson, Davies, Robertson; Snodgrass, Livermore, Huddlestone (Powell, 59), Clucas; Diamé (Diomandé, 58); Hernandez. Substitutes not used Jakupovic (gk), Maguire, Maloney, Hayden.
Referee S Martin (Staffordshire).
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