Fulham were at their charitable best at St. Andrew’s this afternoon as Birmingham ended a ten-match winless streak under new boss Gianfranco Zola after Lukas Jutkiewicz’s second half strike gave the former Chelsea striker a badly sought after success.

The visitors saw plenty of the ball and squandered several good chances during a scrappy and physical contest that turned decisively in Blues’ favour after Fulham full-back Ryan Fredericks was given his marching orders following a brainless lunge at Craig Gardner. Slavisa Jokanovic decided not to introduce another defender from the bench after Fredericks’ sending off, deciding to move Kevin McDonald to centre back and shift Tomas Kalas to right back, but the reorganisation didn’t preserve Fulham’s clean sheet. Jutkiewicz, who headed wastefully against the bar from close range in the first half, turned home a low cross from the impressive Cheick Keita from four yards and Blues proved resolute in defence in the remaining quarter of an hour.

Zola got the result he badly needed after surprisingly replacing the popular Gary Rowett after a largely frustrating start to the new era in the second city. Birmingham had taken only three points from eight league fixtures under the Italian and lost an FA Cup replay to Newcastle. They stubbornly dealt with Fulham’s pretty football and fashioned the best chance of the first period with Jutkiewicz rattling the crossbar when he should have scored with a powerful header after excellent work from Jerome Stewart.

Where Birmingham were tigerish in the tackle and nobody could doubt their desire, Fulham were ponderous in possession and frequently needed several invitations to shoot at goal. One such intricate move broke down before teenager Ryan Sessegnon could strike from well inside the box, whilst Stefan Johansen passed up a good opportunity after an interchange at pace with Tom Cairney, who was targeted for particularly physical treatment from the Blues midfielders.

The pattern continued after the break with a bitty game largely contested in robust exchanges in midfield. Fulham’s football fleeting broke through and they saw plenty of possession, even once Fredericks had been dismissed, but struggled to extend Blues goalkeeper Tomasz Kusczak. Chris Martin guided a couple of excellent headed chances from inside the six-yard box, whilst the frustrating Lucas Piazon also glanced a header off target. Jokanovic threw on new arrival Cyriac in search of an equaliser but, despite some promising bursts of pace, his efforts at goal were largely tame.

Fulham’s clearest opening arrived in stoppage time when substitute Floyd Ayite, recently back in the first team picture after his time at the African Cup of Nations with Togo, screwed an effort into the side netting from six yards out after an encouraging Fulham break down the right. This defeat badly hurt Fulham’s bid to break into the top six and secure a Championship play-off, with the Whites dropping to tenth in the table some six points adrift of in-form Sheffield Wednesday.

Jokanovic refused to blame referee Andy Madley for the result, whose uneven performance encouraged a much more robust fixture than one might have expected, after the final whistle:

It was disappointing but generally we didn’t produce our best play. Birmingham were more solid and the sending off of Fredericks killed us.

I prefer not to make any comment on the sending off but the result was a big setback. Following our recent games we thought we could take the points, but we had problems with their long balls.

I prefer not to make any comment on the sending off but the result was a big setback. Following our recent games we thought we could take the points, but we had problems with their long balls.

BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-3-1-2): Kuszczak; Nsue, Keita, Robinson, Grounds; Kieftenbeld, Gleeson, Davis (Tesche 83); Gardner; Jutkiewicz, Sinclair (Adams 67). Subs (not used): Legzdins, Bielik, Cogley, Frei, Stewart.

BOOKED: Keita, Gleeson, Kieftenbeld.

GOAL: Jutkiewicz (75).

FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Fredericks, Sessegnon (Malone 60), Kalas, Ream; McDonald; Cairney, Johansen; Aluko (Cyriac 78), Piazon (Ayite 60), Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Odoi, Parker, Madl, Parker.

BOOKED: Aluko, McDonald.

SENT OFF: Fredericks (68).

REFEREE: Andy Madley (Stoke).