Bristol Rovers will have to come from behind for a third successive game if they are to maintain an interest in the FA Cup beyond the final whistle at St Andrew’s tonight.
Central defender Paul Robinson has offered Birmingham City a slender half-time advantage after heading home a Shane Ferguson corner in the 35th minute of this third round tie to put Lee Clark’s Championship side in the box seat to set up a home game against Swansea City in round four.
Rovers, however, have given a good account of themselves in front of a vociferous travelling contingent – although a one-on-one chance that was missed by Eliot Richards inside the opening five minutes has been their only real opportunity to score.
The paltry number of Birmingham supporters inside St Andrews, meanwhile, perhaps offered an indication of where the FA Cup and a match against a lowly League Two sides lies within their list of priorities.
If the Birmingham players needed any reminding that overcoming complacency would be their toughest battle though, it was offered up by Richards as early as the fourth minute.
The Rovers striker was alert to the possibilities when Birmingham passed it around and across their own back four in a lackadaisical manner and managed to nick the ball off the toe of Hayden Mullins to bear down on goal.
Goalkeeper Doyle, however, spared Mullins’ blushes by rushing from his goal to repel Richards’ attempt to slide a left-foot finish into the net before Birmingham went on to enjoy the better of the exchanges for the next 20 minutes or so.
Rovers stood firm at the back – a double block from Mark McChrystal to deny striker Lee Novak a goal from close range in the 11th minute being the best of the rearguard actions – as Birmingham maintained good possession of the ball and continued to probe for openings from all sides of the penalty area.
When Clark’s side did manage to gain meaningful sight of the goal though, their finishing was wasteful; Robinson aiming a speculative effort from distance well off target before Nikola Zigic headed across the face of goal and wide when well-placed following a Paul Caddis’ cross.
Michael Smith did manage to force a routine save out of Doyle at the other end poor defending on Rovers’ part at a corner allowed Robinson the chance of a simple back post header from a matter of yards out.
Oliver Norburn, meanwhile, was handed a start for the first time since the 2-0 defeat at Rochdale on December 29 as part of a side showing only one change from that which secured a 2-1 victory over Exeter City.
Norburn replaced Tom Lockyer, who has played through the last two games with a slight illness and was offered a rest of sorts, while Birmingham made three changes to the team that lost 1-0 at Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.
Blues boss Lee Clark brought winger Shane Ferguson back into the side to facilitate a switch in formation to an orthodox 4-4-2 and also offered first-choice goalkeeper Darren Randolph a rest, while former Rovers loanee Will Packwood only made it as far as the bench.
Rovers (4-2-3-1): Mildenhall; Smith, Parkes, McChrystal, Brown; Clarke, Norburn; Harrison, O’Toole; Richards; Harrold. Subs: Harding, Gough, Keary, Lockyer, Clarkson, Beardsley, Woodards.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Doyle; Caddis, Mullins, Robinson, Hancox; Burke, Lee, Brown, Ferguson; Novak; Zigic. Subs: Townsend, Packwood, Elliott, Reilly, Shinnie, Gray, Adams.