Birmingham back to earth

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The Independent Online

Winners against Tottenham in midweek, Birmingham suffered - appropriately for a competition sponsored by a brewery - something of a post-Worthington Cup hangover against Bolton, and in the end could only manage a draw against their nearest challengers for third place in the First Division. And not only did they lose the lead, to give a fair reflection of the game, they also saw their run of seven consecutive home League wins come to an end.

Winners against Tottenham in midweek, Birmingham suffered - appropriately for a competition sponsored by a brewery - something of a post-Worthington Cup hangover against Bolton, and in the end could only manage a draw against their nearest challengers for third place in the First Division. And not only did they lose the lead, to give a fair reflection of the game, they also saw their run of seven consecutive home League wins come to an end.

There was an early change of balls and an early change to Birmingham's line-up, but no early goal to change the feeling that this game featured teams who were too evenly matched to create a spectacle.

That was not the case last Tuesday, when Trevor Francis' Birmingham team went as underdogs to White Hart Lane and resoundingly beat Tottenham in the Worthington Cup.

Back in the bread and butter of the First Division, Birmingham have been enjoying home comforts for most of the season, coming into this game on their impressive run of consecutive League wins at St Andrews. To try and continue that run of form, Francis picked all of his midweek heroes. Not that he had much chance to see if the magic formula would be repeated.

In fact it was only four minutes before the captain, Martin O'Connor, was taken off on a stretcher off after a midfield clash with Per Frandsen. Six minutes later the ball was changed, but neither side troubled the scoreboard.

Birmingham, for all their possession, rarely threatened the Bolton goal, while the visitors, who started the day in fourth place and one point behind their hosts, looked to the pace and height of their top goalscorer, Michael Ricketts. And it was Ricketts, a Birmingham fan, who missed the best chance of the first half. With 24 minutes gone, the tall striker headed the ball once and was allowed a second attempt, but again wasted the opportunity from close range.

The game got the goal it needed but didn't, in truth, deserve, four minutes into the second half. Stan Lazaridis found himself tucked away in the corner, surrounded by two defenders, but the Australian winger produced a piece of magic to twist away and spirit himself into the penalty area, where he went to ground - a little too easily - after Robbie Elliott's challenge, leaving Martin Grainger to drill home the spot-kick.

Bolton then conjured up an equaliser out of nothing after 66 minutes when Ian Bennett failed to collect an innocuous-looking pass in his penalty area, leaving Ricketts an empty net which he duly found.

The draw does neither team any favours as they try to close the gap on Watford and Fulham, and prevent the First Division championship turning into a two-horse race.

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