Birmingham 0-0 Newcastle: Tomasz Kuszczak's heroics force Newcastle into goalless draw
By James Kilpatrick
Last Updated: 18/03/17 7:22pm
Heroics from Birmingham goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak forced Newcastle into a 0-0 draw with the Blues at St Andrew's.
Newcastle were disallowed a goal in the first half after Matt Ritchie was flagged offside, and Blues goalkeeper Kuszczak pulled off a number of fine saves to keep a clean sheet.
Birmingham had a few chances to win the game themselves, with defender Ryan Shotton coming closest with a flicked header which forced Karl Darlow into a smart, reflex save towards the end of the first half.
The result means Newcastle remain top of the Sky Bet Championship, a point ahead of Brighton on 78 points. Birmingham remain 18th.
Rafael Benitez made four changes to his team that lost to Fulham last weekend, with Dwight Gayle, Ciaran Clark, Christian Atsu and an ill Jonjo Shelvey replaced by Grant Hanley, Daryl Murphy, Yoan Gouffran and Ayoze Perez.
For Birmingham, Gianfranco Zola named an unchanged side as the Italian set his team out in a 3-5-1-1 formation once again.
The first clear chance of the half would come to Lukas Jutkiewicz in the 26th minute, whose volley from Craig Gardner's fine cross hit the side netting.
Zola's men then nearly scored again just three minutes later when Shotton's flicked header from a Jonathan Grounds long throw forced Darlow into a great save.
Just moments afterwards, Newcastle had a goal disallowed after a shot from the lively Perez was bundled over the line by Ritchie. However, the linesman ruled the goal out for offside.
In the 55th minute, Kuszczak had to tip a header from Murphy behind before making another fantastic save 12 minutes later. The 34-year-old leapt up in the air to punch away a looping, deflected shot from Jack Colback with Gayle waiting to nod the ball in.
Gardner, who would prove to be the Blues' main creative outlet, came close to breaking the deadlock in the 71st minute after breaking away on the counter-attack, but his shot from just outside the box was deflected narrowly wide.
And perhaps the best save of the afternoon was left for Kuszczak in the 79th minute, as the dangerous Ritchie picked the ball up on the edge of the box and drilled his shot towards the bottom left corner, but the former Poland international got down quickly to tip his shot wide.
Despite Newcastle's attacking pressure in the final few minutes, Birmingham held on to claim a point.
Birmingham boss Gianfranco Zola:
"The commitment and desire not to give anything away was top class. I was pleased with the performance and at the present moment this is what is required. Considering the value of the Newcastle team we created a couple of good chances. They could obviously have scored as they are a good team and are going to win promotion.
"At the moment we need to be defensively organised and difficult to beat. We need wins to give results and tranquillity to everyone. Once this is achieved we can move to the next step. Considering our situation and the value of the opposition it was a good result."
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez:
"People may expect us to win every away game but this was a valuable away point. It is important to learn how to manage games and we are in a better position after every match.
"We maintained a high tempo as we were aware of how Birmingham could play in these circumstances. There are still eight matches to be played and as Huddersfield lost we are now in a better position than we were before the game.
"We have seen this kind performance several times. We did well with all the problems we have at the moment. We had control of the game and we had some good chances. We also scored what I thought was a good goal. We didn't take our chances as their goalkeeper made several fine saves to keep Birmingham in the game."