Birmingham City edged closer to the Championship trap door as their long season of frustration at St Andrew’s reached a predictably bitter end against Wigan Athletic last night.
Despite the backing of a 20,427 crowd – their second highest attendance of the campaign – Lee Clark’s side succumbed to a fifth straight loss as Callum McManaman’s early goal earned Wigan Athletic the victory that lifted them into fifth place above Reading and cemented their play-off berth.
While Wigan now stand two games away from a fifth visit to Wembley in a year – probably against QPR – for Birmingham, their own 2011 trip to Wembley for their League Cup triumph over Arsenal, is but a sepia-tinged memory. Three years after dropping out of the Premier League that same season, they stand on the verge of falling into the third tier for the first time since 1995. They sit third bottom of the Championship, a point behind Doncaster and two behind Millwall, and the only blessing is that their final match is at Bolton, rather than St Andrew’s. After all, this was their 16th league match without a victory on home soil where they have won just twice, most recently on 1 October.
A tense contest was decided by McManaman’s strike in the third minute. Jordi Gomez brought the ball forward and slid a pass to McManaman who stepped in from the left side of the penalty box and found the far corner with a low shot. “Wigan haven’t caused us too many problems after that,” lamented home manager Clark. Sadly for him, on a night of nerves and misplaced passes, his team’s response was limited. Emyr Huws, the young midfielder on loan from Manchester City, tested Scott Carson with a curling shot in the first period and at half-time Clark threw on Nikola Zigic, the only survivor of that 2011 League Cup triumph, who decided to stick around when it turned out his rumoured £70,000 a week contract had no relegation clause. The big Serbian’s goal threat was confined to a tame header at Carson while a flick-on almost let in Antonio Macheda only for Carson to come out and save again. The goalkeeper also stopped Hayden Mullins’ low drive as Birmingham pressed in the desperate closing moments.
“We didn’t get the bounce of the ball but we have to go to Bolton now and get a result and hopefully at least one other result goes in our favour,” added Clark, who hopes his “old mate” Kevin Phillips might do him that favour when Doncaster visit Leicester.
As for Wigan, this was their 59th game of a long campaign which has featured 14 cup ties at home and in Europe. They looked tired but a delighted Rosler hailed their “monumental effort” in reaching the play-offs having been 14th in the table “with a mountain to climb” when he took over in December. “A lot of people said it was impossible to achieve the play-offs with that fantastic FA Cup run and we did.”