Football: Birmingham speed downhill

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The Independent Online
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3

Birmingham City . . . . 0

THE CONDITIONS were more Lillehammer than Black Country last night which suited Birmingham's predicament precisely. With the pace, if not the accomplishment, of a Winter Olympics gold medallist they continue to go downhill at an alarming rate.

Two goals either side of half-time from Cyrille Regis and David Kelly and another in injury-time by Kevin Keen pushed them deeper down the slope towards the First Division's dropping zone while at the same time encouraging hope that Wolves might garnish their FA Cup run with a tilt at promotion.

The result means Birmingham have won only two of their last 14 games and a new era, suggested when Barry Fry was appointed manager four months ago, looks as bleak as blizzard-bound Molineux did last night.

To make matters worse for Birmingham they had legitimate grounds for complaint about the goal which sealed this match. Perhaps the conditions caused snow-blindness in the officials in the 48th minute, but it was difficult to understand how Kelly's strike could be allowed when he was 20 yards behind the Birmingham back four as the move began.

The referee ruled that Kelly was not interfering with play as Peter Shirtliff played Keen through the visiting rearguard but he was certainly interfering moments later when, from a now legitimate position, he was still alone in the penalty area to shoot home Keen's pass.

At first Birmingham's players were too shocked to protest but once the numbness wore off they besieged Mr Gallagher on the touchline and it took another minute for the match to restart. It might as well have halted there. Birmingham, their belief knocked out of them, never properly competed again and it probably summed up their night when Keen got the third. Neil Masters thumped a shot against the bar that rebounded on to Keen's shins and into the net. The scorer looked surprised, the losers thoroughly miserable.

Which did not appear to be their destiny in a first-half in which they were the better side. Steve Claridge went close twice and it was their football that looked more comfortable in the treacherous conditions - so it was scarcely deserving when Regis slid in Andy Thompson's cross in the 45th minute.

The cheers had not died down when the announcement at the interval warned spectators of the slippery conditions with the rider to take 'extreme care'. Birmingham could not have been listening.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: (5-3-2): Stowell; Thompson, Blades, Shirtliff, Venus, Mustard; Keen, Ferguson, Marsden; Kelly, Regis (Rankine, 80). Substitutes not used: Dennison, Jones (gk).

Birmingham City: (4-3-3): Bennett; Huxford, Barnett, Bryden, Frain; Lowe, Cooper, Doherty (Dsouza, 58); Peschisolido (McGavin, 58), Saville, Claridge. Substitute not used: Miller (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).