Preston North End away, a really good opportunity for Gianfranco Zola and his team to step-up to the plate and get his second win in thirteen games.
Another 4-3-3 set-up was the for formation Zola went with ahead of the tough visit to Deepdale Stadium, with three changes made.
Bielik came into the side with Frei re-introduced and so was Che Adams. Blues dug themselves a hole really early when Chieck Keita gave away an early free kick – largely due to the fact he was under pressure in the defensive area.
The free kick was saved by goalkeeper Kuszczak and Blues had a spell on the ball which lasted only a few minutes until former Aston Villa academy player, Callum Robinson popped up with a glancing header to closely stroke into the Blues net and from then on, Blues were pretty much down and out for the rest of the first half.
Up until the 30th minute, it had been all Preston and the away side, Blues couldn’t get a grip on the game. Kerim Frei again looked like Blues’ most promising player and not long before half time he had an attempt, from a right footed shot looped onto the cross from a finger-tip save by North End goalkeeper… Kieftenbeld then had a chance of his own saved.
A Craig Gardner free-kick saved from the bar was the only thing keeping the Blues side sort of sweet as they went into the break, it was a game of one half really, the home team really controlling the first half, the rest, well there were only about 3-4 shots from Blues; nothing major to test PNE that much!
Second haf arose and there was a sense that Blues, if they came out of the blocks the fastest and really dug deep, they could get something. There must have been an omen in the air on the 47th minute, because Che Adams equalised with a left footed shot assisted by Lukas Jutkiewitz. Just as Preston did when they scored, Blues did the same and went onto to control general spells in the game in the second half, giving Gardner many opportunities in the game to pop up with his occasionally good free-kick or a team effort good enough to at least test Grayson’s sides back 4.
A few fouls here and there from Birmingham pioneered Preston’s way back into the tie at Deepdale and that was very bad news for Blues, because a foul committed by Adams bought a North End free-kick. Nothing came of it, but off the back of the corner the ball was kept near the home team’s penalty box and a Jordan Hugill shot, was parried out wide for a corner ball and the pressure was really starting to build on Gianfranco’s men now to hold out. Jonathan Grounds cleared from the corner and Blues just couldn’t get the ball away, with an assisted pass performed by Daryl Horgan, Jordan Hugill finished close range to fire the home side into a 2-1 lead and heap more misery on Zola and Blues!
To bring Blues down even more, two yellow cards late on, saw Craig Gardner sent off and suspended for the next game at home to Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
Two substitutions both at once in the 83rd minute from Gianfranco – on came Greg Stewart for Chieck Keita and Josh Cogley replacing Kerim Frei.
However two subs couldn’t change much for Birmingham as they fell to their 8th loss with Gianfranco in charge and that’s now 1 win in thirteen games…
Where next after a disappointing night in Lancashire, is there anywhere for Gianfranco Zola to go now?
Team Lineups – Preston North End:
GK; Maxwell , RB; Browning , CB; Clarke , CB; Huntington , LB; Cunningham
RM; McGeady , CM; Pearson , CM; Browne , LM; Horgan
RS; Hugill , LS; Robinson
GK; Kuszczak , RB; Nsue , CB; Bielik , CB; Grounds , LB; Keita
CM; Kieftenbeld , CM; Gleeson , CM; Gardner
RW; Adams , ST; Jutkiewitz , LW; Frei
Match facts – Possession – PNE; 46.8% , Blues; 53.2%
Shots – PNE; 14 , Blues; 11
Shots on target – PNE; 5 , Blues; 2
Corners – PNE; 4 , Blues; 3
Fouls – PNE; 12 , Blues; 13