Football: Todd's title dream undimmed

Birmingham City 0 Bolton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Online
BOLTON'S RUN of six consecutive League victories ground to a halt yesterday, and although a point was enough to lift the visitors into second place, there is no doubt that the team happiest with this result was not playing, as Sunderland's lead at the top of the First Division was only reduced by one point.

Birmingham went up one place as well, to fifth, but Bolton, who have now gone 15 League games without defeat, will need to increase their ambition on the evidence of their second-half performance, if they are to put some weight behind the belief of their manager, Colin Todd, that they can challenge Sunderland.

"Most teams might be looking at second place with Sunderland clearly in the lead but we are still looking at first," Todd said. "People say it's not possible for us, that people said two months ago that we wouldn't be in this position now. The players are disappointed that we didn't get three points today but that's only because the boys think we are capable of winning every single game."

The home side, too, can boast some impressive recent form, with one defeat in 10 games, yet despite playing in front of the new pounds 4.5m Railway Stand, opened this afternoon and which led to a record home crowd for this season, they still failed to find the inspiration to score.

It was the visitors who gave Birmingham a shock after 10 minutes when Bob Taylor passed to Dean Holdsworth, who ran across the top of the box only for Michael Johansen to pick the ball off his toes and drive a first- time shot that beat the goalkeeper, Kevin Poole, but ricocheted off the crossbar to safety.

Birmingham reacted in positive fashion and 14 minutes later, Bryan Hughes latched on to a Martin Grainger cross with a vicious volley from 18 yards out that Jussi Jaaskelainen just managed to get his body behind, with Mark Fish clearing up the rebound.

The Birmingham manager, Trevor Francis, repeated his belief afterwards that Bolton should earn automatic promotion this season without giving up on his own team's hopes, but after Hughes' effort it was the Blues who ran the show. With five minutes in the first half remaining it was Hughes who slipped a pass behind Bolton's defence, but Paul Furlong saw his shot cleared for a corner by Jaaskelainen. From the ensuing set-piece Gary Rowett was unlucky to see his header cleared off the line by Scott Sellars.

Bolton responded in kind three minutes later with a header by Holdsworth that was goalbound until Simon Charlton cleared for a corner standing virtually on his goal-line.

That was Bolton's last chance as they let Birmingham swarm over them in the second half, with Graham Hyde and Peter Ndlovu trying their luck from the edge of the area, but Francis was left reflecting: "A draw was about right but we were the aggressors and deserved to win."

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Poole; Charlton, Purse, Rowett, Bass; Grainger, Hyde (Robinson, 81), O'Connor, Hughes; Ndlovu (Forster, 81), Furlong (Adebola, 86).

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Whitlow, Elliott, Fish, Cox; Sellars, Jensen (Gardner, 76), Frandsen, Johansen; Holdsworth (Hansen, 76), Taylor. Substitute not used: Phillips.

Referee: M Pierce (Portsmouth). Bookings: Birmingham: Hyde, Grainger. Bolton: Elliott, Cox.

Man of the match: Ndlovu.

Attendance: 26,051.