If Harry Redknapp did not know Birmingham City’s theme tune before, he will now. The club’s new manager must keep right on till the end of the road as his three-game salvation mission goes to the last day of the Championship season at Bristol City next week.
Redknapp enjoyed victory in his first home game in charge despite Birmingham playing 70 minutes with 10 men, after Che Adams was sent off, and missing one penalty before scoring another either side of Jonathan Grounds’ breakthrough goal. And all this against Huddersfield Town’s reserves.
Craig Gardner smashed home the clinching penalty, 14 minutes from time, showing Lukas Jutkiewicz how it is done, and Redknapp took it all in his stride, strolling on to the pitch at the end to applaud the impassioned capacity crowd, but knows the job still needs seeing through.
Next Sunday, starting two points safe but with an inferior goal difference, Birmingham must match the results of Blackburn, away to Brentford, and Nottingham Forest, hosting Ipswich, to avoid relegation. Maybe then he will get paid. “We need a win,” said Redknapp. “A point means nothing, if the other two teams win. You can get beat, and the other two teams lose, then you’ll be OK, but if they win, a draw’s no good.
“We showed unbelievable character today, to win the game, fantastic. A full house here at St Andrew’s made a big difference, they got behind the team and dragged every ounce of effort from them. I couldn’t be more proud of the players.”
Whether this convinces him to apply to succeed Gianfranco Zola on a full-time basis remains to be seen. Redknapp said: “It’s up to the owners. I’ve not spoken to anybody. I’ve just come in for a couple of games and then we’ll see what happens.”
Birmingham, even with 10 men, looked well organised and confident. “We’ve encouraged them,” he said. “We’ve worked hard in training. Steve Cotterill’s been excellent with them, and the shape of the team was good. We stuck in there and, even a man down, they couldn’t break us down. I always believed you lift people by telling them what they can do rather than what they can’t.”
David Wagner, the Huddersfield manager, was “willing to argue with anyone” who wanted to debate his right to make 10 changes from the side that clinched a play-off place at Wolves last Tuesday. Huddersfield slip from third to fifth, meaning they would face Sheffield Wednesday in the play-off semi finals as things stand.
Redknapp said he would have done the same. “Why should they take charge of [worry about] us or Blackburn or Forest?” he said. “It’s not their job. Their manager’s job is to get his players ready for a four-team tournament. He’s got to do whatever he needs to do to win the play-offs.”
The Huddersfield players lining up averaged just 10.7 league starts this season, and Birmingham ripped into them in the early stages, playing some slick one-touch stuff. They earned a penalty when Mark Hudson tripped Adams but Joel Coleman saved Jutkiewicz’a weak penalty kick.
Then Michael Jones, the rather jittery referee, adjudged Adams had gone in two-footed on Martin Cranie in a reckless tackle and sent him off.
Birmingham could have been forgiven for melting. Instead, they dug in with resilience and four minutes before the interval found their reward.
Craig Gardner’s initial corner was returned to him and from his second cross Ryan Shotton headed back across goal for Grounds to run in bravely and head in at the far post.
Grounds was booked for time-wasting – in the 64th minute. But when Gardner smashed home his penalty after Dean Whitehead tripped Jacques Maghoma, Birmingham knew they remained in control of their own Championship destiny.