Wayne Rooney was brutally denied his first win as Birmingham City manager as Blues let a 2-0 lead slip and Championship title chasers Ipswich Town fought back to draw 2-2 at St Andrew’s on Saturday afternoon. Blues controlled proceedings in the first half and then frustrated the visitors for much of the second with some sound defensive work. Energy eventually dropped away for Birmingham, however, and the Tractor Boys were merciless as super substitute Marcus Harness cancelled out a 13th-minute strike from Jay Stansfield and an own goal from Cameron Burgess. Rooney’s change of system – to a 4-2-2-2 diamond – worked brilliantly for the most part but the visitors were able to snatch a point at the death.
Blues came out of the blocks far better than Ipswich, displaying a high tempo from the off and pushing up high with full-backs Cody Drameh and Ethan Laird. Juninho Bacuna was the first to see a proper sight of goal as the midfielder tried his luck from around 25 yards but his deflected effort sailed narrowly wide of the left post. That was nothing compared to what came just a few phases of play later, however, as the roof was nearly lifted off St Andrew’s Stadium in the 13th minute. Stansfield was played in by what seemed to be a Bacuna miskick and the striker took the ball away from Ipswich goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky, before swiveling and firing the ball into an open net to hand Blues an early 1-0 lead. It all started with a superb outside-of-the-boot pass from Laird as the right-back split the Tractor Boys’ midfield wide open on the transition.
It took until beyond the 25th minute for the visitors to show even remote signs of threat on the attack as Kieran McKenna’s side were startled by Birmingham’s scintillating start. Said threat – albeit limited – was a startling reminder, though, as Ipswich showed Blues the game can change in an instant when Nathan Broadhead went agonisingly close to scoring an equaliser. The winger connected first time to a George Hirst nod-down but couldn’t get his attempt on target. John Ruddy was merely a bystander as the ball came flying past the post but the same couldn’t be said in the 38th minute, as Ruddy made a vital intervention to deny Conor Chaplin. The Tractor Boys’ striker tried a cheeky dink from around 20 yards and the ball just about dipped below the bar but Blues’ ‘keeper was there to react and flick it over.
Birmingham were on the back foot at the start of the second half but it didn’t matter one bit as Rooney’s men doubled their lead in the 51st minute through an unlucky Burgess own goal. Oliver Burke drove at Luke Woolfenden, played in Bacuna down the left and the Blues number seven drilled a low and powerful pass across the face of goal. Burgess was rooted to the spot and all the centre-back could do was watch as the ball flicked off his leg and into the net beyond Hladky. It was very nearly three goals to the good just seven minutes later as Stansfield found some space down the right and put in a delightful through ball. Burke was on the other end of it but his shot was hit directly at Ipswich’s goalkeeper.
The Tractor Boys started to gain momentum beyond the 70th-minute mark, forcing Birmingham into some last-ditch blocks and clearances. Ruddy was called into action on more than one occasion, particularly as he got down brilliantly to flick away a Massimo Luongo effort with an outstretched left boot. McKenna’s men were finally able to find a breakthrough in the 79th minute as substitute Marcus Harness was quickest to react to a blocked shot in the box and poked the ball into the net to make it 2-1. Blues were put under even more pressure from that moment on and it was clear that the legs were really beginning to tire.
Eventually, in the 89th minute, Rooney’s men were dealt a devastating late blow as Harness got on the scoresheet once again to make it 2-2. Drameh failed to clear away Omari Hutchinson’s cross and Harness watched the ball fall before striking sweetly on the volley. There was a synchronous Blues sigh as the net rippled. The Ipswich fans, meanwhile, erupted in ecstasy. A mix of relentless Ipswich pressure and the energy running out in the closing stages cost Birmingham but there was so much to be impressed by and lots for Rooney to learn from. With that in mind, here are our Blues player ratings, as well as individual analysis.
Attendance: 20,940. Away: 1,970.