Newcastle stutter again but stay on course for promotion

By Martyn Herman
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Newcastle United's Matt Ritchie looks dejected after missing a chance to score

Britain Football Soccer - Birmingham City v Newcastle United - Sky Bet Championship - St Andrews - 18/3/17 Newcastle United's Matt Ritchie looks dejected after missing a chance to score Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Adam Holt Livepic

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Newcastle United's stuttering progress towards promotion back to the Premier League continued as they were held 0-0 by Birmingham City on Saturday, although they remain in pole position.

Rafa Benitez's side's third Championship match without a win could have proved more damaging but second-placed Brighton & Hove Albion went down 2-0 at playoff-chasing Leeds United.

Third-placed Huddersfield Town were thrashed 4-0 at lowly Bristol City on Friday.

Leaders Newcastle have 78 points, a point ahead of Brighton and seven in front of Huddersfield, who have a game in hand on their promotion rivals. Leeds are fourth with 69 points.

Fulham missed the chance to move into the playoff places when they were beaten 3-1 at home by Wolverhampton Wanderers.

"People may expect us to win every away game but this was a valuable away point," Benitez said. "There are still eight matches to be played and as Huddersfield lost we are now in a better position than we were before the game."

The point leaves Gianfranco Zola's struggling Birmingham side five points above the drop zone.

Nottingham Forest grabbed a stoppage time equaliser against Derby County as the East Midlands derby ended 2-2 at the City Ground in Mark Warburton's first match in charge, with visiting manager Gary Rowett also making his debut in the dug out.

Derby led 2-1 with goals from Matej Vydra and David Nugent after falling behind, but Forest's Daniel Pinillos struck in the 94th minute to earn a point that keeps the former English and European champions just above the relegation zone.

"It would have been very upsetting not to take something from the game," former Rangers boss Warburton said.

"After a really pleasing first half, it was frustrating to find yourself 2-1 down. But they showed great character and that got the late reward. We deserved the point."

Forest are a point above the drop zone where Blackburn Rovers, another club to have won the English title, have 40 after being denied a victory at home to Preston North End when the visitors scored in stoppage time for a 2-2 draw.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)