A depleted Blues side courageously battled back from two goals down to earn a terrific point against high-flying Crystal Palace at St. Andrew’s today.
Lee Clark’s side created some good chances in the first half but it was the visitors that scored the opening goal against the run of play through Glenn Murray. And when Palace’s leading marksman took his seasonal tally to 20 on the hour it looked as though the game was up for Blues.
However, the hosts again showed tremendous spirit and resolve to take a point from the match. Super Serb Nikola Zigic scored with his first touch to halve the deficit and then Papa Bouba Diop marked his first start for Blues with an equaliser just eight minutes from time.
Clark was forced to ring the midfield changes with Jonathan Spector (injury) and Hayden Mullins (suspended) both unavailable. The central berths were filled by two players at either end of the age spectrum both making their full debut for the club - Diop and teenager Callum Reilly. Chris Burke and Peter Lovenkrands - the latter linking up with Marlon King in attack - were also recalled as Rob Hall and Nathan Redmond dropped to the bench.
Palace gave an early sign of their attacking intent within the opening seconds of the game. Bolasie was presented with a good shooting chance that he miscued but the ball dropped to the highly-rated Wilfried Zola but his effort from the edge of the box fizzed well over the bar. Jack Butland was called into action on nine minutes as Bolasie muscled his way through the home defence but the Blues keeper did fantastically well to come out and smother the striker’s eventual shot.
Blues also played their part in an entertaining opening to the match. Wade Elliott displayed some delightful trickery on the ball – a Johan Cruyff-like turn followed by a clever back-heel brought roars of approval from the home faithful. Reilly also showed up well, looking comfortable on the ball, whilst Diop provided a useful aerial presence.
The closest Blues came to breaking the deadlock came on 18 minutes as Marlon King tried his luck from distance with a low shot that drifted only narrowly wide. Elliott showed good vision to find Burke on the edge of the box and the winger had time to turn and curl in a shot that wasn’t far off target.
The hosts continued to press with two more close efforts in the space of a minute. The first was a tremendous opportunity as Palace lost possession and Blues broke with three against two and Lovenkrands firing in a shot from the left side the area that was tipped around the post by Julian Speroni. From Elliott’s resultant corner, Davies rose highest but his header flew just the wrong side of the upright.
Blues were made to pay for not making the most of those chances as Palace edged ahead with the scrappiest of goals. Bolasie’s low cross from the left was bundled home from almost on the line by Murray. The hosts could have found themselves two goals behind at the break but were indebted to Butland as he flung himself to his left to parry away a fierce Owen Garvan effort.
Clark made his first change early in the second half as Hall replaced Elliott and the Blues boss was forced into making a second substitution soon afterwards as Paul Caddis hobbled off and Mitch Hancox came on in his place.
Blues had a narrow escape when a Palace four-against-two counter attack ended with a one-on-one chance but, as Butland raced out to narrow the angle, Andre Moritz lifted the ball well over the bar. However, soon afterwards the visitors did increase their lead. Poacher Murray was the man in the right place again to convert Jonathan Parr’s cross.
It looked as though Blues were to be given a golden chance to reduce the arrears when former St. Andrew’s loanee Peter Ramage appeared to connect with the ankles of Lovenkrands. The Dane did throw himself to the ground quite theatrically but there had seemed to be contact. But the official saw it as unsporting behaviour and booked the Blues man.
Blues made their third and final change on 65 minutes as Zigic replaced Burke and it paid immediate dividends. Just 30 seconds after coming onto the pitch, the substitute did superbly well to direct his looping header into the corner of the net from King’s cross.
The comeback was completed with just eight minutes remaining as Diop rose majestically to meet Hall’s inswinging corner and powered an unstoppable header past Speroni.
King had a chance to win the game when the ball dropped to him on the left side of the area but it was a difficult bouncing ball and for once the Blues top scorer was off-target with his shot. Dikgacoi headed narrowly wide from a 90th minute corner to the relief of the home fans but it would have been harsh on the hosts.
The Blues fans gave the man-of-the-match award to Butland but fellow youngster Reilly was an equally good candidate for the accolade as he continued the battle to the last and showed remarkable composure for someone of his age, on his first St. Andrew’s outing.
Blues: Jack Butland; Paul Caddis (Mitch Hancox 58), Steven Caldwell, Curtis Davies, Paul Robinson; Chris Burke (Nikola Zigic 65), Papa Bouba Diop, Callum Reilly, Wade Elliott (Rob Hall 56); Peter Lovenkrands; Marlon King.
Subs (not used): Colin Doyle, Pablo Ibanez, Ravel Morrison, Nathan Redmond.
Bookings: Burke, Lovenkrands
Goals: Zigic (66), Diop (82)
Palace: Julian Speroni; Joel Ward, Damien Delaney, Peter Ramage, Jonathan Parr; Kagisho Dikgacoi, Owen Garvan, Andre Moritz (Danny Gabbidon 77); Wilfried Zaha, Glenn Murray (Aaron Wilbraham 82), Yannick Bolasie.
Subs (not used); Lewis Price, Jermaine Easter, Dean Moxey, Stuart O’Keefe, Kwesi Appiah.
Goals: Murray (39, 60),
Bookings: Garvan, Parr
Attendance: 17,158 (1,699 away fans)