MATCH VERDICT: Birmingham City 1-2 Bolton Wanderers
ONE of the Second City’s favourite sons, Jasper Carrott, used to do a joke about buying a golden goal ticket at St Andrew’s – “I opened it up and it had October written on it,” he quipped.
Forecasting the moment that Wanderers’ season would finally get started has been no laughing matter but after enduring a winless August and September, long-suffering fans have had to resort to that same kind of gallows humour as summer turned into autumn.
Now, at the 11th attempt, and after the worst start to a season in 111 years, Dougie Freedman’s side have a league win under their belt. Has lift-off has finally been achieved?
Typically, the international break arrives just in time to check any momentum gained from a hard-fought victory. Not until the visit of Sheffield Wednesday a week on Saturday will we really see what progress has been made.
Since that 10-minute bombardment against Yeovil, however, there have been signs that the penny has dropped with Freedman’s group of under-performing players. As such, you could forgive the some of the more optimistic Whites fans for thinking the birds were signing a little louder and that their morning cuppa tasted that little bit sweeter yesterday.
Of course, the Wanderers boss and his players will be breathing a little easier after inching up the table a little with three points. But the result – particularly heading into a fortnight with only international football for company – was just the perfect fillip for a group of supporters who deserve something to smile about.
Birmingham played a part in their own downfall, with defensive errors a major factor in goals for Jermaine Beckford and Neil Danns.
The hosts huffed and puffed but only seemed to have any bite up front when the much-maligned Nikola Zigic came off the bench midway through the second half.
He halved the deficit with a towering header and the Blues will point to a late penalty claim as proof that they should have secured a point.
Freedman may well believe it was high time his side got a bit of good fortune.
Wanderers’ defensive effort warranted a bit of praise too, and while plenty has been made of the impact made by loanees Danns, McNaughton and in particular Feeney, it is the rise to prominence of Tim Ream and Matt Mills as a centre-back partnership that has been the real bedrock of recent improvement.
Special mention must be made of Zat Knight too, arriving as a late substitute to shore up after Zigic’s goal. The club captain provided an unlikely spark against Yeovil recently and his entrance at St Andrew’s bulked up a back line that had been creaking under the sheer weight of crosses into the box.
If confidence has been lacking in the Wanderers camp then it did not show with Jermaine Beckford – someone who rarely looks in need of a pick-me-up.
Confident, brash, cocksure, call him what you like, but the ex-Leicester City man unanimously referred to as “Becks” in the dressing room has been anything but Goldenballs to the Wanderers supporters since his summer arrival.
This was an afternoon of change, however, and after grabbing his first league goal for the club on 12 minutes, 375 travelling fans were chanting his name.
If Wanderers are to maintain momentum after the break then the kind of razor sharp finishing he showed to capitalise on Dan Burn’s error will be needed again.
Birmingham showed nothing like the kind of ruthlessness that had helped them put four past Millwall in midweek. Former Wanderer Paul Robinson showed a brutality of sorts, scything down Beckford on the edge of the box before jogging away with the “not guilty” look we have seen plenty of times before. Referee David Coote somehow overlooked the incident, much to the bemusement of Freedman who looked to the heavens in disgust on the touchline.
Chances were at a premium but Adam Bogdan’s scrambling save from Callum Reilly’s curling shot kept his side just ahead in a tight first half.
Feeney came to the fore for the Whites after the restart, underlining just what a great find he has been for Freedman.
Beckford headed one of his inch-perfect crosses on to the bar before another was haplessly palmed into the path of Neil Danns by keeper Randolph, leaving the loan midfielder with a simple tap in for his first Bolton goal.
Breathe a sigh of relief? Well, not quite.
Giant Zigic’s arrival from the bench suddenly gave the home side an added dimension.
Mills, Ream and Co had dealt comfortably with what had been thrown at them so far but when the 6ft 7ins Serbian headed home David Murphy’s free kick it was clear they needed some assistance.
Enter Knight – a man not loved by the Birmingham fans by virtue of his Aston Villa connections. Wanderers supporters have had their issues with the skipper’s form this season too, but his 20 minutes on the pitch was as solid and commanding performance as he has shown for some time.
Chung-Yong Lee, another sub, could have settled the game when another great centre from Feeney was missed by Beckford, landing at the Korean’s feet at the far post.
An in-form player would have snapped a shot at goal but such is his lot at the moment, he tried to cut back into the six yard box before wasting his pass.
Feeney would have one last say on the game, charging down a late shot from Reilly with his hands high above his head.
By the rulebook they were not in a “natural” position – although they would have gone down well at Old Trafford that evening if preventing a drop goal.
Birmingham should have had a penalty but having wasted too many words on the Whites’ bad luck this season, this writer is glad to move on.
Now the question is where do Wanderers go from here?
Three of the next four games are at home and all what you would term winnable.
If Freedman’s side can keep up their momentum through the break then maybe we won’t need to reach for the joke books to keep us entertained.