By Tim Hodges from the Amex.
Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Birmingham City 1
The Albion drew their final home game of the season in front of a hugely appreciative crowd at the Amex.
Ashley Barnes was the Seagulls hero with a late equaliser, but it was Vicente who won the hearts of Seagulls fans, as he again put in a superb performance in midfield.
Joe Mattock and Peter Brezovan both returned to the Albion starting line up whilst Sam Vokes and Gonzalo Jara Reyes returned to the bench.
Before the match began Liam Bridcutt was named Albion’s player of the season.
Birmingham are a big powerful team. Marlon King and Erik Huseklepp form a formidable looking partnership up front and Lewis Dunk and Adam El Abd looked to have their work cut out.
The atmosphere in the stadium was superb, helped by the largest away following of the season, many who had turned up in fancy dress.
On the pitch the Seagulls were just shading it. Vicente and Buckley their most likely source of success.
Twice Vicente set Buckley away. One sublime pass clipped inch perfect from the halfway line. However Doyle got down well to save Buckley’s shot.
Jo Mattock was getting himself well forward from defence. He supports Mackail – Smith well and offers the striker the chance to gain possession in the midfield area .
Albion gained a free kick in the far south-west corner. Vicente swung the ball in with pace, but Mattock could only steer the ball into the side netting.
Birmingham seemed content to soak up the pressure. King putting himself about when necessary. A particularly nasty looking challenge with Bridcutt saw the Albion player needing lengthy treatment and a booking!
Peter Brezovan had a largely quiet first half, only an off target effort from King and near miss by Redmond troubling him.
At half time baton jugglers, clown like linesman (intentional) and ball jugglers entertained the family stand as Albion made a big effort to create a party type occasion for the Amex finale.
Navarro tried his luck early in the second half with a 25 yard drive which had Doyle scrambling across his goal to push to safety.
Albion cranked up the pressure. Calderon was now supporting Vicente, as Barnes used his versatility to come and find the ball from midfield positions.
Barnes worked hard all game. Defending, creating and seizing on any chance to have an effort on goal.
Almost against the run of play the visitors went in front.
As King picked up a clearance, referee Miller took a tumble. Some fancied King used a hand to control the ball while the ref was on his backside, but the big No 9 picked out Redmond .He picked his spot to steer the ball past Brezovan and scored the first league goal between the clubs in over 17 years and put Birmingham 1-0 in front.
Soon after Craig Noone and Gary Dicker replaced Mattock and Navarro as the Albion went after an equaliser.
After drifting out of the match for a while Vicente began to stamp his mark on it again. Wriggling free of couple of defenders he whipped in a cross that just eluded both Mackail-Smith and Dicker.
But with five minutes left it was Albion’s Spanish connection who combined to help put the Seagulls back in the game.
Vicente picking out Calderon with a short simple pass. The captain for the day as tenacious as ever went to the byline ,and fired in a cross which Ashley Barnes meet with a well placed shot to make it 1-1.
The giant Zigic came on for the last five or so minutes and he and Murphy pushing up from defence caused Albion a few problems in last few minutes, which meant the defence had to work a little harder
But it was in fact the Seagulls who seemed likelier to score in the four minutes of stoppage time.
An effort to get the ball through to Mackail-Smith was evident, but it just wouldn’t drop in the areas the record signing wanted it.
Albion signed off with a draw against a team who have Premier League quality and aspirations.
The Albion have personified the splendid architecture of the Amex this season. In a campaign that is likely to yield a top ten finish, this can only be seen as a huge success.
Albion: Brezovan; Calderon, Dunk, El-Abd, Mattock; Bridcutt, Navarro; Vicente; Buckley, Barnes, Mackail-Smith. Subs: Ankergren, Jara Reyes, Dicker, Noone, Vokes.
Birmingham: Doyle, Ramage, Davies, Ibanez, Murphy; Burke, Gomis, Mutch, Elliott; Huseklepp, King. Subs: Butland, Cian Hughton, Redmond, Townsend, Zigic.
Referee :Nigel Miller (Co Durham)