Late win boost Birmingham hopes in Europa league

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They may be in the second tier Championship but Birmingham City are faring solidly in the Europa League and a last-minute effort by Kiwi forward Chris Wood secured a 2-1 win at Belgium’s Club Brugge on Thursday to bolster hopes of winning their group.

Wood, a summer loan signing from West Bromwich Albion, struck with seconds left on the clock to make it two wins out of three for Chris Hughton’s side as they went level on top of Group H with their beaten rivals.

Wood, who represented New Zealand at last year’s World Cup finals, scored in the 10th minute of injury time to complete a comeback after Joseph Akpala had put the hosts ahead just three minutes. David Murphy levelled with a neatly-taken goal on 26 minutes to cheer more than 5,000 travelling fans, who were dismayed to see their team drop out of the Premier League last May having only just lifted the League Cup under Hughton’s predecessor Alex McLeish.

The added time followed treatment for Blues’ defender Pablo Ibanez, who was earlier knocked unconscious in a collision with Akpala.

Hughton saw his decisions to ring the changes rewarded with the three points after he left out keeper Colin Doyle following a howler against NK Maribor last month, with Boaz Myhill coming in instead.

Group rivals Sporting Braga and Maribor parted 1-1 to leave Birmingham and Brugge both two points clear of the third-placed Slovenians.

The top three in each group qualify for last 32, where they will be joined by eight teams who finish third in Champions League group stages.

Elsewhere Thursday, Fulham were unable to emulate Birmingham’s success as the Cottagers crashed 1-0 on their Group K travels at Wisla Krakow of Poland with Israeli Dudu Biton netting the only goal on the hour.

Dutch outfit Twente won 4-1 at Denmark’s Odense to establish a three-point lead at the top of the group but Fulham hang onto second spot after Odense’s loss which gave Krakow their first points.

Scottish giants Celtic, European Cup winners in 1967, were held 1-1 at French side Rennes, who took the lead through Cha Du-ri’s own-goal after half an hour.

Jo Ledley equalised midway through the second half to ensure Celtic still entertain albeit faint hopes of getting through from Group I, where they have two points from their three games to date, as do Rennes.

Celtic striker Anthony Stokes said a point was worth having.

“We knew we couldn’t lose this game and it was a massive game for us and we’re just glad we got the point at the end but maybe on another day we would have won the game,” said Stokes.

“We’re happy with the point considering where we were at half-time.”

Udinese scored twice late on in Italy to see off Spaniards Atletico Madrid to go top of the group and leave their rivals just two points clear of the stragglers.

In Group J, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar netted twice as leaders Schalke swamped Cypriot side AEK Larnaca 5-0 away while Maccabi Haifa inflicted the same scoreline on former European champions Steaua Bucharest.

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