STOKE // A late winner from Dean Whitehead gave Stoke a 3-2 victory over Birmingham on Tuesday after his side had squandered a two-goal lead and looked set for an embarrassing draw.
Having conceded goals to Robert Huth and Ricardo Fuller, Birmingham's fightback began when Keith Fahey pulled a goal back in the in the 74th minute. Cameron Jerome then grabbed a quick equalizer just two minutes later.
But Whitehead dispatched Matthew Etherington's cross into the net in the 85th to seal three points for Stoke.
"When they got the second goal it was very deflating," Stoke manager Tony Pulis said. "The big disappointment was that we weren't coming in at half time more than one goal up. We started the second half well and then had a mad 15 minutes where, after Ricardo's fantastic goal, they pressed on and had nothing to lose.
"After the previous 70 minutes, we started to take a step back, and fair play to Birmingham, they kept going and they nearly nicked something."
The victory lifted Stoke three points clear of the Premier League relegation zone, while Birmingham remains a point behind.
"It would have been a great point and I thought the way we were going at the time (of the equalizer), the momentum was with us," Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said. "We were right on top at two each, and their third goal was a dog's breakfast of a goal. It was shocking. We have lost some uncharacteristic goals this season."
Stoke made a bright start, with its wingers Etherington and Jermaine Pennant causing real problems for the Birmingham defense.
Home fans protested for a penalty when Birmingham keeper Ben Foster collided with Stoke's Danny Higginbotham as the goalkeeper rushed out to push the ball away, but referee Mark Clattenburg waved play on and striker Ricardo Fuller saw his follow-up attempt deflect off target.
A defensive mix-up for Birmingham then saw Fuller slipped in, but Foster was alert once more and came out to take the ball off the Jamaican's toe.
However, Stoke's pressure finally paid off as it took the lead through skipper Robert Huth. Fuller drilled in a shot from the edge of the box which ricocheted off a couple of Birmingham players and Huth was there to lash the ball in off Foster.
The hosts maintained the tempo after the break as Etherington chipped the ball into the path of Fuller, whose touch let him down with Barry Ferguson looming, and Huth headed a corner wide.
Birmingham nearly equalized as a scramble saw Higginbotham hit his own post and a shot from Craig Gardner get blocked on the line. Yet just seconds later, it was Stoke that had the ball in the net, with Fuller twisting and turning before producing a wonderful strike into the top corner.
The points looked safe for Stoke, but only three minutes later Birmingham substitute Fahey pulled one back after a mistake by Higginbotham.
Alex McLeish's men had also come back from 2-0 down in their last game and before Stoke knew what was happening, they had repeated the trick as Jerome glanced Sebastian Larsson's cross past keeper Asmir Begovic.
It had taken Stoke less than five minutes to throw away a two-goal lead and the team looked shell-shocked.
But in the end, the home side emerged triumphant from the game's thrilling finale as Etherington's cross slipped between the legs of Scott Dann and Whitehead pounced, prodding home to secure victory.