Blues' promotion dreams were ended at St. Andrew's in a dramatic fashion this evening as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Blackpool.
Unfortunately Blackpool's 1-0 win at Bloomfield Road last Friday was enough to earn the Seasiders a 3-2 aggregate victory over the two legs and a place in the npower Championship play-off final against West Ham on Saturday week.
It took Chris Hughton's side more than an hour to really hit their stride and by that time they had already fallen two goals behind. But goals from Nikola Zigic and Curtis Davies set up a thrilling finale in front of a packed and vociferous St. Andrew's.
The Blues boss made three changes to his starting line-up. Nikola Zigic returned up front alongside Marlon King to spearhead the attack. American international Jonathan Spector started in the centre of midfield alongside Jordon Mutch and Andros Townsend was back on the left-flank. Nathan Redmond, Guirane N'Daw and Wade Elliott were all dropped to the substitutes' bench.
Blues made a really positive start to the game and had the visitors on the back foot inside the first minute. Chris Burke saw his shot blocked, before Jordon Mutch's attempt was also deflected away.
Colin Doyle was called into action after five minutes when he was forced to make a smart stop from Thomas Ince after the Blackpool man had cut inside and let go with a low near-post effort. Moments later the Blues stopper was forced to save from the same player after he managed to get in behind David Murphy on the Blues left and get a shot off.
Having weathered that pressure Blues returned to the attack. Burke cut through the Blackpool defence, but with the Scottish winger about to shoot, Alex Baptiste did well to send the ball behind for a corner. Burke then tried his luck with a curling shot that went just wide of the post.
Blues came close to taking the lead with 13 minutes on the clock. Murphy's cross found King on the far side of the area and the Blues frontman let rip with a fierce volley that agonisingly bounced off the bar and behind for a goal kick.
Curtis Davies was then forced to make a vital clearance to deny Gary Taylor-Fletcher's header across the front of the Blues goal with Doyle beaten. Blackpool were in the ascendancy now and forcing Blues into making far too may errors.
Just before the half-hour mark Nikola Zigic was cautioned for a sloppy challenge on Stephen Crainey. The Serb almost redeemed himself minutes later with a left-footed shot that Matthew Gilks saved low down. Neil Eardley became the first Blackpool player cautioned for a lunging challenge on Murphy as the full-back rampaged down the left wing.
With a minute to go to half-time Chris Hughton was forced into a change as Spector limped off the field with what looked to be a thigh injury, to be replaced by Guirane N'Daw.
Seconds later things went from bad to worse for Blues as they fell behind. Blackpool won a corner on the right. The ball was sent over to far post where Gary Taylor-Fletcher attempted an overhead kick. His shot was headed back out by Curtis Davies, but it lacked distance and Stephen Dobbie was on hand to pounce with a low shot that squirmed underneath Doyle and into the back of the netWith just over an hour on the clock teenager Nathan Redmond was introduced to the proceedings in place of Andros Townsend.
With the second half less than three minute's old disaster struck as Blackpool doubled their advantage on the night. Matt Phillips sprang the Blues offside trap and with just Doyle in his path he fired the ball past the Blues stopper and into the back of the net via the far post.
A shell-shocked Blues side were struggling to find a way back into the tie and it was the Seasiders who were looking the more likely to extend their advantage.
St.Andrew's was then brought back to life when Zigic pulled a goal back for his side on 64 minutes. King's ball found the Serb just onside and he made no mistake as he rifled the ball past Gilks and into the corner of the net.
Hughton's men were fired up now and really had Blackpool rocking. Gilks was forced to save with his feet as King's effort looked to be heading into the back of net. Then King tried his luck from distance but was unable to keep the ball down.
It really was game-on after 74 minutes when Blues struck for a second time courtesy of Davies. Jordon Mutch whipped in a deep corner and Davies rose majestically to head the ball past a flapping Gilks.
Daviescame close to scoring a carbon copy less than five minutes later, but this time his header flew over the bar.
It was almost all Blues now with Blackpool making the odd foray forward on the counter-attack.
With five minutes of normal time remaining former Blues favourite Kevin Phillips was sent on in place of his namesake Matt Phillips and received warm applause from the St. Andrew's faithful.
Alas Blues were unable to breach the Blackpool defence for a third time and now face another season in the second tier of English football. However, Chris Hughton and his players can be rightly proud of their achievements in a season that will live long in the memories.