Kevin Davies' penalty and Robbie Blake's free-kick rescued an unlikely point for 10-man Bolton Wanderers but the award of each set piece left Birmingham City feeling short-changed today.
"It feels like defeat," said Alex McLeish. "We're pretty sore about it." His disappointment was aggravated by the circumstances. Roger Johnson, who had given Birmingham the lead, was adjudged to have leant on Davies before the latter chipped in nonchalantly from the spot. "That's pretty generous," said the Birmingham manager. "It's extremely soft. Our guys get barged in the back, so hopefully we'll get penalties like that."
Then the referee, Kevin Friend, ruled that Gary Cahill was fouled when, if the Bolton defender were impeded, the offender seemed to be his team-mate Mark Davies rather than Birmingham's Barry Ferguson. "Ferguson's done nothing," added McLeish. "If anything Cahill has clattered Barry. The two of them have sandwiched Barry and it could have been a free-kick the other way." Instead Blake sauntered forward to curl the ball beyond Foster. "A wonder strike in the top corner," said Owen Coyle. Blake is precisely the sort of talented technician he cherishes.
Twelve months ago Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs were serenaded at Turf Moor with a chant of "You're not Robbie Blake". Now Wanderers' supporters could be forgiven for borrowing the chant from their Clarets counterparts from Burnley. Last year Blake's stunning volley condemned Manchester United to defeat and, in opening his account for Bolton, he managed another admirable August strike.
In the process Blake thwarted one of his former clubs. He was briefly a Birmingham player five years ago before a move to Leeds appeared to herald the end of his Premier League career. Instead the 34-year-old's belated renaissance has come under Coyle's guidance. "I had two magnificent years with Blake at Burnley," said the manager, who re-signed the veteran in the summer. "Knowing his qualities, I would have loved to have got him earlier in his career because of the technique and the ability he has."
Blake figured only in the final quarter. Before then Birmingham had prospered. Both goals were products of a tactical tweak from McLeish that paid dividends. He had reinforced his midfield with the inclusion of Lee Bowyer and, with Ferguson the disciplined anchor man, others were afforded the freedom to advance. The indefatigable Bowyer was a beneficiary, reaching the byline to meet James McFadden's pass and cut the ball back. Cameron Jerome glanced it to Johnson, who slid his shot in.
The second goal resulted from another energetic midfield play. When McFadden crossed, Jerome directed his header into the path of Craig Gardner, who miscued his first attempt to score but had sufficient time and space to succeed with a second effort.
The goals sandwiched the dismissal of Jussi Jaaskelainen. As Johnson challenged the Finn for a high ball, both fell to ground. The central defender rose, intent on apologising, only to be cuffed around the ear by the goalkeeper. A fourth sending off of Jaaskelainen's Bolton career was the inevitable consequence. "It was a clear red card," said Coyle. "There's no debate about it. Jussi knows he's made a mistake."
Yet his foolishness had benefits for Bolton. Jaaskelainen's successor, the Premier League debutant Adam Bogdan, made an injury-time save to deny Jerome a winner and Coyle was encouraged by the way his depleted team were not defeated. "I think anyone would have struggled to recognise it was 11 against 10," he added.
Blake's final signature completed a frustrating couple of days for Birmingham. A move for Wigan's Charles N'Zogbia broke down over personal terms on Friday. "We pushed the boat out to get N'Zogbia but there are not a lot of £9m players out there ready and able to come to us in 48 hours," said McLeish. Bolton, however, can testify that £9m footballers are not always required; a 34-year-old's free transfer sufficed yesterday.
Man of the match Kevin Davies (Bolton Wanderers)
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