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Birmingham bolster Europa hopes

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PARIS, France, October 21 – English Championship side Birmingham City were indebted to a last-minute effort by Kiwi forward Chris Wood which secured a 2-1 win at Belgium’s Bruges on Thursday to bolster hopes of winning their Europa League 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.

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

Hughton was delighted that Ibanez appeared to have suffered no long-term ill-effects.

“Pablo was a real concern for us so we’re very happy it was just concussion and he’s okay,” he said.

“We’ve had two results today. One is the scoreline and the other is the fact he is okay.”

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, Russian striker Roman Pavlyuchenko was on target as Tottenham edged out Rubin Kazan 1-0 to go top of Group A at their rivals’ expense by three points.

And Stoke City are in command of Group E after sweeping aside Maccabi Tel Aviv despite the sending off of Cameron Jerome at the Britannia Stadium.

Early headers from Kenwyne Jones and Jerome and then a clincher from Ryan Shotton made it seven points from three games for the Potters.

Fulham were unable to emulate Birmingham’s awayday 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.

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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