Birmingham City 1-0 Blackpool: Seasiders condemned to disappointing away defeat by questionable late winner
A late hammerblow condemned Blackpool to a cruel defeat away to Birmingham City.
The Seasiders dominated for large swathes of the game at St Andrew’s, but were lacking a killer touch and composure in the final third.
Some good chances were squandered, the clearest falling to substitute Josh Bowler who was denied by an impressive stop from goalkeeper Matija Sarkic.
But the hosts, who had previously only threatened from long throws and set pieces, stole the points nine minutes from time through substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz.
There was some fortune involved in the winning goal too, as the experienced striker - who appeared to be in an offside position - bundled home from close range with his thigh despite knowing very little about it.
Despite the setback, which comes off the back of three straight draws, Neil Critchley’s men remain in the top half of the Championship table.
After two physically demanding games, Pool’s head coach opted to switch things up by making four changes to his side from the midweek draw against West Brom.
Jordan Gabriel was rested and dropped down to the bench, which saw Dujon Sterling take his spot at right-back.
Elsewhere, Ryan Wintle was surprisingly named among the substitutes despite being a virtual ever-present since arriving on loan from Cardiff City. Callum Connolly took his spot in central midfield alongside Kenny Dougall.
Demetri Mitchell replaced Josh Bowler in a like-for-like replacement, while Owen Dale came in for Shayne Lavery - which saw the Seasiders revert to a 4-2-3-1 system with Gary Madine leading the line on his own.
Chris Maxwell (quad), Richard Keogh (calf), Oliver Casey (ankle), Luke Garbutt (knee), Kevin Stewart (ankle), Matty Virtue (ACL) and Grant Ward (achilles) all remain sidelined with injuries.
The likes of Sonny Carey, CJ Hamilton and Tyreece John-Jules were left out of the squad altogether.
Birmingham, meanwhile, made three changes to their side from their midweek draw against neighbours Coventry City.
The hosts, who began the day 17th in the table, thought they’d taken the lead inside the opening 60 seconds, but Jeremie Bela’s rasping long-range drive hit the side netting, rather than creeping in.
Dan Grimshaw was required to make an important save early on as the Seasiders faced an aerial bombardment from the direct hosts.
A long throw hurled into the box deflected off the head of a Blackpool player and towards goal, but Grimshaw backtracked well to tip the ball over his crossbar.
Blackpool’s first chance, meanwhile, came from Gary Madine, who got across his man at the near post to flick just over from Keshi Anderson’s ball in.
The Seasiders were getting into some good positions out wide, especially down the right with Dujon Sterling’s overlapping runs.
Some good openings went to waste though, especially on one occasion when Sterling crossed to three waiting teammates who all remained motionless despite a good delivery from the Chelsea loanee.
When Blackpool kept the ball on the floor, they looked the more threatening side by far. Equally, when the ball was in the air, the hosts looked more dangerous.
The Seasiders looked really dangerous in spurts, when they worked the ball between each other with quick and incisive passing.
That’s exactly what happened between Demetri Mitchell and Keshi Anderson, whose ball back into the middle was pounced upon by Matija Sarkic - the brother of Oliver - just as Mitchell was readying himself to tap home.
A moment later, Reece James dragged a shot wide after the visitors had worked the ball well from right to left.
Mitchell, meanwhile, would then curl an angled free-kick just past the far post as Critchley’s side ended the half strongly.
The chances continued to come and go, as Madine headed wide from Dujon Sterling’s cross following a lightning-fast break.
Pool started the second-half just as they ended the first, well on top and piling the pressure on - but just lacking that final bit of composure in the final third.
Other than long throws, the home side were offering very little and looked a side well short of confidence or standout quality.
The Seasiders were far hungrier though, beating the hosts to loose balls across the pitch and chasing down lost causes they had no right to reach.
Birmingham produced a rare moment of promise just after the hour-mark when dangerman Scott Hogan, who had been quiet up to that point, got behind Pool’s backline.
The striker opted to cut back past Marvin Ekpiteta though, rather than shoot, before playing the ball into the six-yard box where the Seasiders were able to scramble clear.
This prompted a spell of pressure from the home side, who went close again when Deeney played a quick one-two with Hogan before firing at goal, only to be denied by a heroic block from Marvin Ekpiteta.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, and the game still on a knife-edge, Critchley turned to his bench, introducing Josh Bowler for Mitchell.
The winger almost made an instant impact, having a low drive turned behind by Sarkic after combining well with Owen Dale.
It was Dale’s last action of the game, as a moment later he was replaced by Shayne Lavery as Pool went two up top.
Just like Bowler, Lavery was straight into the action, running in behind to meet a through-ball only to be wiped out by a recovery defender - but no penalty was given.
Critchley and his assistant Mike Garrity were incredulous on the sidelines, holding their hands in disbelievement.
It was utterly typical then that the home side would finally make the breakthrough in the 81st minute.
To rub salt into the wound, there was a great deal of fortune involved in the goal, as Kristian Pedersen’s left-wing cross ricocheted straight to substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz, who bundled the ball home off his thigh despite appearing to be offside.
Critchley responded quickly to the surprise setback, making his third and final change by replacing Madine with Jerry Yates.
Pool stuck to their principles in the dying stages in a bid to get something from the game, but they were unable to carve an opening for themselves and the hosts held on with relative ease.
It was a disappointing end to what was another positive performance from the Seasiders, who will rue their failure to make their dominance pay.
Birmingham: Sarkic, Pedersen, Roberts, Sanderson, Bela (Aneke), Graham, Sunjic, James, McGree, Hogan, Deeney (Jutkiewicz
Subs not used: Etheridge, Castillo, Dean, Oakley, Walker
Blackpool: Grimshaw, Sterling, Ekpiteta, Husband, James, Connolly, Dougall, Mitchell (Bowler), Anderson, Dale (Lavery), Madine
Subs not used: Moore, Gretarsson, Gabriel, Wintle, Yates
Referee: Matthew Donohue
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