Birmingham 1-0 Fulham: Gianfranco Zola finally gets first win
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 05/02/17 5:09pm
Lukas Jutkiewicz was the Birmingham hero as his goal earned Gianfranco Zola his first win in charge of the Blues after a 1-0 home Sky Bet Championship victory over Fulham.
Zola's first win at the 11th attempt came when Jutkiewicz scored in the 75th minute, just six minutes after Fulham's Ryan Fredericks had been sent off.
It was a game of mixed fortunes for Jutkiewicz, who wasted a fine first-half opportunity before atoning for that when he notched his 10th goal of the season to lift the gloom around St. Andrew's.
Birmingham, who were without key defenders Ryan Shotton and Michael Morrison, made four changes from the side defeated in midweek by Reading in a desperate attempt to improve their flagging fortunes. They drafted in Emilio Nsue and two youngsters, Chei Keita and Jerome Sinclair.
But it was a very mature 16-year-old Ryan Sessegnon who caught the eye for Fulham in the early stages as Birmingham launched several promising attacks down their right flank.
There was an anxious moment for Fulham when goalkeeper David Button hesitated leaving his line. Craig Gardner spotted the opportunity as he raced forward only for Button to make a late fumbling save.
Birmingham then had a let-off when Stefan Johansen had a free header from a Fredericks right-wing cross but it was such a weak effort that Tomasz Kuszczak had little trouble making an easy save.
Fulham appeared to have more quality and were more assured and with young Sessegnon over-lapping down the left they gained in confidence. The London club, however, had a massive let-off in the 19th minute when Jutkiewicz conspired to head against the bar from about four yards following an accurate left-wing cross from Gardner.
Following a half-time pep talk from Zola, Birmingham were certainly more dangerous with Sinclair finally making an impact. The on-loan youngster from Watford tested Button to boost Birmingham's confidence of breaking the stalemate.
Fulham, however, looked the more dangerous and the out-of sorts Chris Martin wasted a glorious close-range opportunity when he headed wide from Sone Aluko's right cross.
Another Fulham chance went begging when Kevin McDonald headed over the bar with Birmingham's defence at panic stations.
In an attempt to change their shape Fulham replaced Lucas Piazon and Sessegnon with Floyd Ayite and Scott Malone but the Londoners continued to be denied.
The game exploded in the 69th minute when Fredericks collected a red card for a crude tackle on Gardner on the half-way line. It was a crucial turning point as six minutes later Birmingham stormed into the lead. Keita made ground down the left and produced a low cross which Jutkiewicz gleefully turned into the net to the relief of the Birmingham fans.
Fulham's Ayite then wasted a glorious chance of equalising when he aimlessly shot wide on the run.
Birmingham boss Gianfranco Zola:
"We have been waiting a while for the win and we are delighted. It was a difficult, tough game against tough opposition as our confidence has not been 100 per cent. We faced the task and came up with a good victory after creating a lot of chances.
"The win was just a little step forward and we have a lot more to make in the future. It is just the beginning and we will improve in many aspects."
Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic:
"It was disappointing but generally we didn't produce our best play. Birmingham were more solid and the sending off of Fredericks killed us. We couldn't find enough power to change the game.
"I prefer not to make any comment on the sending off but the result was a big set-back. Following our recent games we thought we could take the points but we had problems with their long balls.
"We tried to find a solution after the sending off but I cannot complain about my team as they pushed hard. On the day we didn't produce our best form."