Tom Cleverley celebrated his first match in interim charge of Watford with three points thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win against strugglers Birmingham.

Emmanuel Dennis’ 44th-minute strike, following an error from the home side, proved enough for Watford to leave St Andrew’s with maximum points.

The Hornets steer further clear of the relegation zone and leave Birmingham embedded in the battle to stay up.

Blues made a bright start to the match, applying early pressure on the Watford defence, and Koji Miyoshi dragged wide the hosts’ first chance of the match.

Ethan Laird then narrowly flicked over Juninho Bacuna’s near-post corner before Bacuna found space in the penalty area and had a goal-bound shot blocked.

An energised Birmingham side continued to press for the breakthrough and Bacuna again had a shot blocked inside the penalty area when well placed.

Watford managed to momentarily threaten the Blues goal when Tom Dele-Bashiru curled a left-footed effort over the crossbar.

A second corner fashioned another chance for the hosts as Daniel Bachmann was forced to dive across his goal line and claim an Emanuel Aiwu header.

Birmingham were the masters of their own downfall as they gifted Watford the opening goal.

Aiwu could not control Cody Drameh’s throw-in across his own penalty area and Dennis got the better of the defender before finishing ruthlessly past John Ruddy.

The goal lifted the visitors and Dennis forced Ruddy into a smart low save to deny the striker a quick second goal before half-time.

Watford started the second half the brighter of the two sides and Lee Buchanan had to clear a Mattie Pollock effort off the line before Yaser Asprilla’s shot was cleared over the crossbar.

Birmingham managed to get back into the ascendency and Ivan Sunjic had a good chance to draw the hosts level.

Jay Stansfield drove forward and Sunjic picked up the loose ball in the penalty area but sliced a shot wide from close range.

Blues continued to search for an equaliser and Bachmann made an excellent save to beat away Miyoshi’s drive at goal after an initial effort from Aiwu was blocked.

Substitute Vakoun Bayo nearly made an instant impact for the visitors as his stretching shot flashed across Ruddy’s goal and wide.

Miyoshi spurned another opportunity for the hosts as they continued to apply the pressure on the Watford defence.

Tyler Roberts had a late chance on goal, but Bachmann got down well to save and preserve the points for the visitors.

Middlesbrough manager Michael Carrick admitted Riley McGree’s stunning winner was good enough to win any game and was the “wow” moment from their 1-0 win at St. Andrew’s.

McGree’s 17th-minute goal was his sixth of the season and first since September, giving Boro their third straight win.

The Teessiders are up to ninth and five points off the final play-off position.

“I don’t think you expect that but it was a pure strike from Riley,” said Carrick.

“He’s capable of those moments and he’s had one or two of those ‘wow’ moments with goals he’s scored like that.

“It was a hell of a strike and fitting to win any game. He’s capable of that and, like some of the boys, capable of even better.

“I thought there were moments of real quality in the game and that was the standout one.

“Hopefully he’s coming into a real vein of form when we need him.”

McGree’s celebrations were muted out of respect to the club where he spent 15 months on loan across two seasons from October 2020 to the end of 2021.

“Knowing Riley it was down to that. He’s down to earth and humble and very respectful,” added Carrick.

“I didn’t realise that but if he didn’t celebrate, I can understand that.”

Carrick was non-committal on Boro’s hopes of making the top six, with Blackburn at home on Saturday.

“Let’s see where we go – we’ve had a good week,” he said.

“We were the only game so we knew we could make a bit of a jump, so we made the most of it.

“Just because we won doesn’t mean the next game is going to naturally end in a win. We need to start again and prepare for that.”

McGree lashed an unstoppable left-foot drive into the top corner from 25 yards after Alex Pritchard’s pass was easily cut out by Luke Ayling.

Birmingham have now gone five games without a win and are just a point above the relegation zone after losing their match in hand.

Interim manager Mark Venus admitted the absence of boss Tony Mowbray for medical treatment was being felt deeply.

“He’s making good progress and we can’t get him back quickly enough and hopefully he will be back in the future,” said Venus.

“We’ve missed him immensely and enormously. He’s a leader, a motivator and a driver and I think undoubtedly when you have someone like him at the front, you miss him.

“We have not got enough leaders in the club. But we have to work with what we’ve got and we have to do better and get through this.

“It’s a lack of quality that we all have to address.”

Russell Martin believes Southampton’s togetherness and spirit will help in their push for an immediate Premier League return after they fought for a much-needed, last-gasp 4-3 win at 10-man Birmingham.

Having been relegated with a whimper last term before enduring a difficult start to life in the Sky Bet Championship, Saints then went on a club-record 25-match unbeaten run in all competitions.

That streak ended 18 days ago with the first of four defeats in five games, with three of those losses coming in the league as their hopes of automatic promotion began to fade.

Martin’s men desperately needed to return to winning ways to kick-start their promotion bid and substitute Joe Aribo’s stoppage-time strike completed a breathless victory at St Andrew’s.

“The identity of the team has changed and how it functions and how it plays, and what is important to the team,” the Saints boss said after catching his breath. “But the biggest change has been in that (spirit).

“I think how together they are, how much they believe in each other, how much they trust each other, how much they care for each other.

“And that just takes time and hopefully they see that the same thing from us as a group of coaching staff.

“It has been amazing and they are so together and they feel everything together.

“Football has a tendency to make you into a bit of a robot, really, emotionally, especially when you’ve been in the game for a long time.

“You have a bit of like scar tissue from previous battles but been amazing to see some of them open up and be a bit vulnerable.

“To play the way we play you have to be a bit vulnerable sometimes with the ball because it’s a bit scary. I have nothing but gratitude for that and I’ve loved watching it.

“That spirit will help us for sure in the last quarter of the season.

“I’d rather not win in the last minute, but I think it’s down to togetherness and spirit, and also the amount of work they put into opposition teams with the ball.

“They make teams have to run really, really hard and it tires people out.”

Saints were on top for large parts but twice came from behind in Birmingham, where Koji Miyoshi and Jay Stansfield efforts were cancelled out by Adam Armstrong and David Brooks respectively.

Che Adams went on to put the visitors ahead against his former club, who were reduced to 10 men when Blues skipper Dion Sanderson was sent off.

Birmingham dug deep in the absence of boss Tony Mowbray and Juninho Bacuna equalised, but Southampton were not to be denied as Aribo sparked stoppage-time celebrations.

Assistant Mark Venus, who felt Sanderson’s red card was undeserved, said: “It must have exciting for the fans. It was emotional sat there, to be honest.

“I think if you just look at the end of it, we got to 90-odd minutes with 3-3 with 10 men and just to concede the last goal is heartbreaking for everybody, really.

“I think they were dangerous every time they put the ball in the box and bottom line is we rode our luck.

“We played against a good team in the league and showed a lot of character.”

John Eustace’s wait for a first win at Blackburn goes on after Preston battled back to claim a 2-2 draw in an entertaining Lancashire derby clash at Deepdale.

Eustace, whose first game in charge of Rovers ended in defeat at former club Birmingham, saw his side let a 2-0 lead slip but still dented Preston’s play-off aspirations.

All four goals came in the first half as Sammie Szmodics regained his place as the Championship’s top scorer before Sam Gallagher doubled the visitors’ lead.

But Robbie Brady’s 39th-minute strike and Emil Riis’ effort four minutes later secured Ryan Lowe’s hosts a point.

Eustace made two changes from the side which lost at St Andrew’s as John Fleck made his debut and Scott Wharton returned to the starting line-up, while North End remained unchanged from the side that beat Middlesbrough to earn a third successive win.

Blackburn arrived at Deepdale off the back of a turbulent few weeks but they quickly hit the front as star man Szmodics, who had already lashed an effort wide, opened the scoring after just seven minutes.

The 28-year-old overtook Plymouth’s Morgan Whittaker at the top of the second-tier scoring charts as he raced on to Gallagher’s flick on and coolly slotted beyond Freddie Woodman.

Down the other end, Liam Millar cut onto his left foot but could only tamely hit straight at Aynsley Pears.

Fleck’s debut lasted just 17 minutes before he was forced of with injury but Rovers were soon celebrating a second goal.

Gallagher sent the visiting fans into scenes of jubilation when he got in behind from Callum Brittain’s defence-splitting pass and converted with a neat flick in the 23rd minute.

It could have been three when Szmodics forced Woodman into a decent save after Brittain’s free-kick was cleared into his path.

But a four-minute burst saw the Lilywhites level before the break.

The first goal was a fine curling first-time finish from Brady, a stunning strike to open his account for the season.

And Riis scrambled home his third goal in as many games to draw the hosts level on the stroke of half-time.

Referee David Webb was jeered with chants of “you’re not fit to referee” from both sets of supporters after a break in play with an injury.

The momentum was all with the hosts after a scintillating end to the first half and Riis fashioned a chance for Brady with a cheeky backheel, but a pivotal Blackburn block kept the scores level.

Mads Frokjaer then smashed a 20-yard volley over as Preston continued to press.

Dangerous Danish striker Riis nodded an Alan Browne cross straight at Pears, who then produced an important stoppage-time save to keep out Browne’s header and help earn a point for his side.

New Blackburn boss John Eustace said he was happy with the work he did at Birmingham after his side were beaten 1-0 by his former club at St Andrew’s.

Andre Dozzell made the decisive breakthrough in the 77th minute to end City’s 388-minute drought to reward City’s dominance.

The dismissal of Eustace appeared harsh, as he was forced out having led the team to sixth place in the Sky Bet Championship.

Chief executive Garry Cook said Eustace’s ambitions were not aligned with the club’s.

Yet the 44-year-old’s replacement, Wayne Rooney, was sacked after winning just twice in 15 games as the club plummeted to 20th in the table.

“It was great to be back, I had 15 brilliant months here,” said Eustace.

“The most important thing was to not lose. That’s not a good feeling but I’m fully focused on Blackburn now and I wish Birmingham all the best.

“I have no hard feelings, it’s part and parcel of the job.

“If that wouldn’t have happened I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to be manager of Blackburn.

“I was very happy with the work I did, you could see the club grew and I left it in a much better position than when I came in.

“We were playing some really good football when I left so I was happy with the job I did.”

Asked if he was suitably ambitious, he answered: “I think results and performances showed that.”

As Eustace was talking about his time at St. Andrew’s, a supporter came into the media suite and shouted “They should never have got rid of you, John!”

Eustace replied to the assembled media: “Put that in your reports.”

Regarding the game, Eustace said: “It was disappointing. The lads battled really hard but we have to be better with the ball.”

Tony Mowbray’s side were good value for their first win in four matches, which saw them climb within a point of 16th-placed Rovers.

Marc Roberts hit the post and his namesake Tyler missed one-on-one chances in either half.

Eustace’s counterpart and former Blackburn manager Mowbray felt his team were good value for the win.

“It was an important, big, three points because you can’t keep having 23, 25 shots a game but keep getting beaten,” he said.

“We should have scored more goals and if we’d have got three or four it would have given us more confidence.

“I picked a team to show Blackburn that we were up for a fight because they can cut you open.

“Rather than the artists who can drag their foot over the ball, I played the grafters and chasers but the substitutes impacted the game pretty well too.”

Dozzell spared City’s blushes when he poked home after he and Adam Stansfield had shots blocked, before Cody Drameh’s cross fell back into his path off Kyle McFadzean’s foot.

Wayne Rooney accused some of his substitutes of falling short after Birmingham surrendered a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 against high-flying Ipswich at St. Andrew’s.

Rooney picked up his first point since becoming City manager but was denied his first win after substitute Marcus Harness’ late brace extended Ipswich’s unbeaten league run to 11 games.

Jay Stansfield’s fifth goal of the season gave City a 13th-minute lead and it was followed by a Cameron Burgess own goal after 51 minutes.

Ipswich were a different proposition after the break though and substitute Harness replied in the 79th and 89th minutes.

Ipswich made four substitutions in the 72nd minute and three of them combined for Harness’s first goal.

“Their subs made the difference and I felt ours didn’t,” said Rooney.

“Some of the lads who came on didn’t do enough. The lads worked extremely hard to put us in the position we were in, and when you’re coming off the bench you need to be better than a few of them were.

“When you make changes and bring players into the game, you have to pick that (intensity) up, especially as Ipswich were starting to get a bit of control, so we needed them to give us that energy to continue what we were doing.

“I just felt there were a couple of players who didn’t do that for us. That’s something for us to improve on.”

Rooney admitted City are trying to improve players’ fitness so they can maintain their intensity for longer.

“The way I want them to play is different – it’s more front-footed and it takes a lot more energy to do that,” he said.

“We’re constantly trying to build that up so they can get to a level where they can do it for 90 minutes.

“But as we started tiring, Ipswich started to get control and pushed us back and we couldn’t hold them.

“Ideally I want to be making changes for tactical reasons, not necessarily for physical reasons.”

Ipswich manager Kieran McKenna praised the character of his team and substitutes after coming back from two goals down to retrieve something from a game for the third time this season.

“I was really pleased and proud of the players and for the supporters as well,” said McKenna.

“The biggest credit due was our reaction to their second goal because that was the one that could have really deflated the group. But we managed to pick straight up and keep going how we were.

“We’ve seen it before with this group and we’ve built that resilience over time to keep playing our football, and trust if we do the right things we can always score.”

In contrast to Rooney’s view on his substitutions, McKenna was full of praise for his replacements, who changed the game.

“Credit to all the subs who came on – the boys all knew what slots they were going to come into and they all had a really good impact,” he said.

“Marcus scored twice to back up his goal from last week and that was great for the spirit in the group.

“It was also great for the understanding that with the challenge we face this year, it’s going to take the whole squad.”

Wayne Rooney admits he will adapt his “no-fear football” philosophy at Birmingham after a 2-0 defeat to Hull because his players cannot do it.

Liam Delap’s 12th-minute goal and a superb solo effort from Jaden Philogene made it a miserable St Andrew’s debut for Rooney, who has lost his first two games in charge, up against his former Derby assistant Liam Rosenior.

“You need to be brave in taking the ball, but it’s clear from the first two games that the players aren’t comfortable doing that,” said Birmingham manager Rooney.

“So there will be slight adjustments of course because we need to pick up points as well.

“I can get players up the pitch, boot the ball up the pitch and look to pick up second balls, but we need to get the balance right.

“This is on me – maybe I’ve asked them to do too much and I take that responsibility. We’re asking them to play out from the back and be more front-footed.

“I said to the lads after the game ‘if you don’t feel you can do it, tell me, and we can adjust and adapt’.

“There’s so many different elements to no-fear football. They’ve had snots and guts for the last 10 years and it’s been very difficult.

“But it’s not going to change within two weeks when the players haven’t been used to a completely different way.

“As I’m getting to know players’ strengths and weaknesses, we will find that balance to ensure we get it right.”

Fans made their feelings known to Rooney at the end of the game while the team was booed off at half-time and full-time.

“That’s part of football. You need to win games to change that,” said Rooney.

Rosenior said Birmingham fans need to be patient with Rooney as he will turn things around.

“I’d be excited if I was a Birmingham fan because I worked with him for a long time. I know his qualities as a manager and a coach,” he said.

“I ask for Birmingham fans to give him time because I know Wayne and he will get it completely right.

“He’s got so many qualities – when you had the intelligence Wayne had as a player and see how he sees the game, he’s top in the way he understands players, he makes players feel really confident in the way they play, but once he gets that time, I’m sure he will be successful.”

Rosenior said his gameplan worked a treat.

“A legend has just walked into the club so we knew we had to take the sting out of the game,” he added.

“The first goal came from really good pressing that we worked on with Liam Delap, Scott Twine and Adama Traore. After that we had complete control.”

Birmingham’s unbeaten start to the season ended at St Andrew’s as slick Cardiff strode to a 3-1 victory and passage into the third round of the Carabao Cup for the first time since 2014.

It took the Bluebirds just three minutes to open the scoring as Karlan Grant burst away from Marcel Oakley down their right. The former West Brom man rolled a pass into Rubin Colwill’s path and the 21-year-old stroked home first time.

Blues’ best moment of the first period came in the 24th minute when Andy Rinomhota was booked for bringing down Juninho Bacuna from behind. The Curacao international picked himself up and curled the free-kick over the wall only to see Alex Runarsson superbly tip on to the bar.

The hosts’ task became even more difficult in the 56th minute when Lukas Jutkiewicz was sent off for serious foul play after a late challenge on Mahlon Romeo.

Cardiff doubled their lead 12 minutes later when Ollie Tanner picked out Colwill in the penalty box and the youngster laid back for Ryan Wintle to strike unerringly into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

Birmingham made a contest of it with 20 minutes to go as Manny Longelo threaded a pass into the path of Scott Hogan who finished neatly between the goalkeeper’s legs, but Erol Bulut’s men settled it with a back-post finish from Kion Etete four minutes into added time.

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