Burnley 1 Birmingham City 2
Birmingham City are reportedly looking to offload Marlon King before the transfer deadline but any potential move didn’t come early enough for Burnley as his late strike put the brakes on the Clarets’ play-off push.
King volleyed home in the 90th-minute to bring an end to the Clarets’ three-match winning run after Dean Marney’s sending off for a challenge on Paul Robinson had left Burnley to play the final half hour with ten men.
Ross Wallace’s penalty had just levelled things up at 1-1 following Curtis Davies’ first-half opener for the cash-strapped Blues and with the momentum behind them Sean Dyche’s men must have been eyeing another three points to push them closer to the top six.
But Marney’s contentious dismissal proved pivotal as the Clarets were forced to commit one less man to attack and while they never resorted to clinging on for a point, City’s late pressure paid off as King delivered the potentially perfect parting shot.
With Charlie Austin not deemed quite ready to return from a month-long injury absence and Michael Duff still sidelined, the Clarets not surprisingly started with the side that won so impressively at Millwall a week ago to continue their perfect start to 2013.
And the opening exchanges suggested a continuation of normal service as Burnley created a trio of early chances against a City side with only one win in their previous eight League games – including the pre-Christmas draw between the two sides.
As is often the case it was the combination of Wallace and Kieran Trippier down the Clarets’ right flank that provided the opportunities.
But perhaps targetman Sam Vokes would have benefitted more from three tantalising crosses into the penalty area as Danny Ings twice headed off target and Junior Stanislas also failed to get the necessary accuracy when trying to head back across goal at the far post.
And the illusion that it would only be a matter of time before Burnley made their promise pay was shattered after 20 minutes when the Blues grabbed the lead.
City had offered little as an attacking threat but as he had at St Andrew’s, Davies headed Birmingham in front when he was able to meet a corner from Rob Hall to nod the first goal past Lee Grant since David Nugent’s winner for Leicester City on 29 December.
The goal knocked Burnley out of their stride and for the next 20 minutes they played largely in hope rather than expectation, looking long to Vokes and hoping to pick up the pieces.
But the final five minutes of the first half hinted at the prospect of a fightback as Chris McCann and Dean Marney began to make their presence felt in bursting forward from midfield as both at least forced England international Jack Butland – possibly playing his last game for the Blues – to get his gloves dirty from regulation saves.
Dyche looked to maintain the momentum with a tweak of personnel at the start of the second half as Wallace tucked in to play behind Vokes with Ings moving wide to the left and Stanislas switching to the right.
And within four minutes Ings should have levelled, ironically from a central position as he ran onto a flick-on from Vokes before crashing a shot against the bar with just Butland to beat.
The tide was turning, though, and after Butland made a superb save from Vokes as the big striker looked to steer in a cross from Stanislas, Burnley were level in the 55th-minute.
Robinson brought down Stanislas just inside the penalty area as he looked to run onto another knock-down from Vokes and with Wallace again taking on spot-kick duties, the little Scot made it two out of two in a Burnley shirt as he drove his effort powerfully past Butland.
That might have been the cue for the Clarets to take control but instead Davies was allowed another free header which went straight at a relieved Grant and Burnley were then left facing the final hour a man down when Marney was sent off.
The midfielder had been given a ticking off for one first-half tackle which referee Darren Drysdale didn’t like and when he then slid in full-blooded, but seemingly not out of control, at Robinson there was no leniency shown with a straight red card.
The decision raised the temperature inside Turf Moor as the ten men stirred themselves in a bid to defy the numerical odds and keep their winning run going.
Ings came alive to keep the Clarets driving forward but Birmingham, sensing the possibility of a first three-pointer since Boxing Day, threw on giant striker Nikolas Zigic to try and win it late on.
And Zigic, whose late leveller a month ago had denied Burnley victory, helped do the damage again.
He should have clinched victory himself when he headed a Chris Burke cross against a post but in the final minute of regulation time made amends by flicking on a Wade Elliott ball for King to show a touch of class with a volley across Grant into the far corner to end Burnley’s flying start to the year.
Burnley: Grant, Trippier, Lafferty, Edgar, Shackell, McCann, Marney, Wallace (Stock 78), Ings (Treacy 90), Vokes, Stanislas (Paterson 83). Subs: Stock, Richards, O’Neill, Long, Jensen.
Booked: Wallace 27
Birmingham: Birmingham: Butland, Caddis, Caldwell, Davies, Robinson, Burke, Gomis, Elliott, Hall (Redmond 54), King, Reilly (Zigic 68). Subs: Mullins, Morrison, Doyle, Hancox, Lovenkrands.
Referee: Darren Drysdale