Premier League - Newcastle win in Birmingham
Hard-working Newcastle claimed all three points at Birmingham with a 2-0 victory in their rearranged Premier League clash at St Andrew's.
Jonas Gutierrez created both goals for the visitors, as Newcastle made the crucial break-throughs early in each half to take all three points on a soggy evening in the Midlands.
Birmingham and Newcastle both named unchanged sides for the rescheduled fixture – the original game was snowed off in December – with Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins handed a start against his former club.
The Blues came into the match looking for a third successive win in the league, but it was Newcastle who came storming out of the blocks to take the lead in less than two minutes.
Alan Pardew’s side had not won in five matches, but his side caught Birmingham napping as Jose Enrique charged down the left wing unchallenged with a minute on the clock.
The Spaniard's initial cross was cut out by the usually-stubborn Birmingham defence, but the ball fell kindly to Gutierrez, who whipped a teasing left-foot cross in to the feet to Peter Lovenkrands. Lovenkrands reached the ball ahead of his marker – Roger Johnson – and stroked the ball expertly inside Ben Foster’s near post.
Despite the blistering start, chances came at a premium throughout the opening half as tireless running from the Newcastle defence combined with repeatedly poor positional play from Nikola Zigic to keep Newcastle on top at St Andrew's.
Zigic - twice Birmingham’s hero in their last two matches, scoring the Midland side's only goals in 1-0 victories over Stoke and West Ham – was constantly caught offside, and only once tested Newcastle keeper Steve Harper in the opening 45 minutes.
The chance came in the 21st-minute, with former Newcastle favourite Martins slipping the ball into the colossal Serbian's feet inside the area.
Zigic took a touch, turned, and forced a fine save from Harper, low to his right.
Gardner and Johnson also missed gilt-edged chances for Birmingham - the latter spurning a particularly glaring chance with a close range header in the 19th-minute - and Newcastle went in at the break with the advantage.
After their lacklustre start to the first half, the one thing Birmingham boss Alex McLeish would have drilled into his men at half-time would have been to come out guns blazing for the second period. However, with just five minutes played his side's deficit doubled as Gutierrez was again the thorn in Birmingham's side.
The Argentine winger turned Sebastian Larsson inside and out on the left wing, before curling a delightful cross straight to Best at the far post, who thundered a header past Foster's left-hand post.
Both sides managed to forge further half-chances as the rain continued to pummel the St Andrew's turf, but Cheik Tiote’s long-range effort was well held by Foster in the 73rd-minute, and Zigic failed to test Steve Harper with a header over the bar a minute later.
Johnson then headed straight at Harper from a corner in the 79th-minute, and Kevin Phillips narrowly missed a Cameron Jerome mis-kick five minutes later, as Newcastle held on for a hard-fought 2-0 victory.
The victory ends a run of five games without a win for the Magpies, who move up to ninth in the Premier League table with 35 points from 37 games.
Alarm bells will be ringing for Birmingham, however, who remain in 14th position – just three points clear of the relegation zone.