Gardner returns in style against Spurs
In his first Birmingham start since mid-November, Craig Gardner enjoyed a fine return to first team football by scoring a late equaliser to earn his side a 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham Hotspur.
A first-half goal from Sebastien Bassong put Spurs 1-0 up at the interval and they looked set to put five points between themselves and sixth-placed Bolton, who lost 1-0 at Manchester City, until Gardner's 81st-minute strike. The result means that Tottenham, who have won just once outside London all season, fall three points behind fourth-placed Manchester City in the race for UEFA Champions League qualification, while Birmingham remain 14th.
"I'm delighted with a draw because Tottenham are a top side and, in the first half, were very dangerous," said Birmingham manager Alex McLeish.
"But Craig Gardner is just one of many with desire in this team and we've got good momentum right now," the home team manager added.
Spurs, fresh from a last-gasp 2-1 win at home to Liverpool last weekend, began the game in sprightly fashion and twice threatened the Birmingham goal before taking the lead. Peter Crouch was the first player to threaten, chesting down an Aaron Lennon cross before testing Ben Foster with a low shot, before a fine tackle from Roger Johnson denied Crouch's strike partner Jermain Defoe.
The breakthrough came in the 19th minute and Gareth Bale was at its source. The Welsh winger won a free-kick wide on the right and swung the ensuing set-piece into the box, where the close attentions of Crouch forced Foster to palm the ball into the path of Bassong, who smashed home. Crouch then shot off target after Johnson miscued an attempted headed clearance, but Birmingham served notice of their intentions to get back into the game when Gardner fired fractionally wide from distance.
Gardner, back from an ankle injury, then headed straight at Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, before Blues boss Alex McCleish gambled by throwing on giant striker Nikola Zigic for winger Keith Fahey. Defoe was next to go close, drilling wide of the near post, but Zigic's introduction enabled Birmingham to establish an attacking foothold in the game and William Gallas had to produce a superb block to repel Cameron Jerome.
Bale served a reminder of Tottenham's threat with a rasping strike that Foster had to parry, with Sebastian Larsson then calling Gomes into action at the other end. Spurs were gradually pinned inside their own half and Jerome blazed off-target from the edge of the box after Johnson had picked him out in space. Gomes spread himself brilliantly to prevent Liam Ridgewell from equalising after a right-wing cross reached him at the back post but the hosts were knocking on the door and with nine minutes to play they levelled. McCleish's decision to send on Zigic bore fruit in timely fashion, as the Serbian international nodded Scott Dann's deep cross back across goal for Gardner to head home the equaliser.