Andrew Gutman celebrates his goal. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Andrew Gutman gave the Red Bulls a vital lifeline Saturday night.

Scoring against his former team, the defender celebrated his 25th birthday in the best way possible, striking in the 73rd minute to lift the Red Bulls to a 1-0 win at lowly FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium.

Had the game ended in a draw, or worse, a Red Bulls loss, the visitors would have taken a big time step out from contending for the MLS Cup playoffs.

As it is, the Red Bulls’ quest will be difficult enough because they beat barely beat the worst team in the league.

The Red Bulls (34 points), who have a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2), improved to 9-11-7 and 34 points as they moved from 11th to ninth place in the Eastern Conference and climbed within five points of the seventh-place playoff line.  Last-place Cincy (20) dropped to 4-15-8.

“It’s a great feeling right now,” Red Bulls captain Sean Davis said about the unbeaten streak. “We’ve had an up and down season, and things were tough [over the summer] summer. We had a lot of honest dialogue about what we needed to do. It wasn’t easy at times but I’m really proud about how the group has grown throughout the year. These last two weeks we’ve been rewarded for a lot of hard work. So, it feels good right now.

“We’ve matured as a team, and it’s great to see so many guys develop over the course of a year. I’d like to think that we’re hitting our stride at the right time. We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole, but I’m happy with how the group is performed over the last few weeks especially when our backs were against the wall.”

Cincy has been a train wreck since entering the league in 2019.

Case in point:

On Monday, FC Cincy sacked head coach Jaap Stam and named former MLS player Tyrone Marshall as its interim coach the rest of the season.

Goalkeeper Carlos Coronel recorded his ninth clean sheet of the season.

But a win is a win is a win.

“A big win for us,” head coach Gerard Struber said. “We fight and work so hard for that. This was the seventh game in 21 days and and my boys fought all day. They let everything on the field today.”

Gutman drilled home a 10-yard shot from the left side of the penalty area after a perfect diagonal pass from Cristian Casseres, Jr. as the Red Bulls extended their unbeaten streak to five games (3-0-2).

“It was an amazing goal,” Gutman said, adding that Casseres played him “an unbelievable pass. So, without that pass even the lead me into the box I wouldn’t have scored. It was a special moment for me especially on my birthday. I have my family in the crowd and my girlfriend in the crowd. To score in front of them, it was an amazing feeling.”

He might have been celebrating his birthday, but Gutman wasn’t going to celebrate the goal in front of his former teammates in their own stadium.

“I have so much respect for Cincinnati,” Gutman said. “They gave me my start. I’m still really good friends with a lot of guys on the team. The front office guys have been unbelievable to me even when I’m not at the club anymore. I was thinking about if I would score, [what] would I do. There’s no question for me I wasn’t going to celebrate. You know this city treated me unbelievably when I was here.”

The Red Bulls dominated the first half, enjoying a huge 12-2 shot advantage while FC Cincy won the possession battle, 52-48.

Patryk Klimala had the two best opportunities, and he was thwarted twice by goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton, who made diving stops in the 26th and 43rd minutes. Klimala deposited the ball into the net in the fourth minute, but the Red Bulls were called offside.

Realizing his team needed a big push over the final 45 minutes, Struber brought on Daniel Royer, Caden Clark and John Tolkin at halftime, for Frankie Amaya, Wiki Carmona and Tom Edwards, respectively.

FC Cincy finally got a solid shot on frame as Yuya Kubo fired a shot that keeper Carlos Coronel saved in the 56th minute.

Defender Andres Reyes fouled Brenner in the 51st minute and received a yellow card the hard foul, meaning he will be suspended for the Inter Miami CF match next Saturday.