Birmingham City 0 Newcastle United 0: 'Shattered' Bruce to consider future at Birmingham
Monday 01 May 2006
A certain Government minister, assessing the health of Birmingham City, would probably proclaim this the best season in their history. The co-owners of the club take a bleaker view on relegation, yet while David Gold is convinced Steve Bruce can put them on top of the Premiership waiting list, David Sullivan nurses question marks over his future.
For Gold, speaking after a barren anticlimax against Newcastle and news of Portsmouth's win, the eyes have it. Bruce is the fourth manager during his 13 years at St Andrew's and he had only to study the faces of two of his predecessors to realise their time was over. "I saw it in Terry Cooper's eyes that he'd given up," he said. "He didn't have to tell me he wanted to go, although he did. I could see. The other was Trevor Francis."
Gold added: "A manager can lose confidence in the board or in the players, but once you see it in their eyes that they've actually lost confidence in themselves, that's it.
"Steve is shattered, devastated. I see sadness in his eyes, but also resilience. Weak people walk away, say 'I'm not good enough', but that's not him. He's a huge personality."
Sullivan has played the darker half of a "good cop/bad cop" duo with Gold this season, criticising the attitude of the players and complaining of complacency. He admitted to feeling "very let down" and articulated the possibility that Bruce may not be in charge when Birmingham head for Southend and Hull rather than Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.
"Steve has to decide whether he wants to stay and if he still has the energy to take us back," Sullivan said. "It has been a tough year. He may decide he wants to take some money and walk away. We would like him to stay, but we also want to know whether he wants to do that. That will be resolved by a week on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest."
The ball, then, appears to be in Bruce's court. The Birmingham manager, noting that eight players will be out of contract this summer, with a further two on loan and three more badly injured, talked of a "big job to be done by whoever it is". Pressed on the latter phrase, he said: "I hope it's me, but I don't think now is the time to ask anything like that."
What went wrong? "Our first seven home fixtures produced one point," said Bruce. "For me, that was a turning point. We've also had too many of our big players sat in the stand, injured. And 28 goals in 37 matches is not good enough. Our defensive record has been excellent for a team at the bottom end of the table. But the lack of goals has been critical."
Ironically, nearly a fifth of their goal tally came in a 5-0 rout of Portsmouth. It seemed the clubs were heading in vastly different directions. They were, but not as Birmingham anticipated. Once Harry Redknapp's £11.5m January signings had settled in, they began climbing, whereas Bruce's transfer-window spending amounted to £500,000.
The former Manchester United captain's only previous relegation came as a Norwich player, and he felt "for the fans, and the people who have worked their socks off and will probably lose their jobs now". In fact, Glenn Roeder probably edged closer to the job of managing Newcastle on a permanent basis when Shay Given's late double save preserved a point for a weakened team.
When he last visited St Andrew's, with West Ham, it was Roeder who endured the drop. This time, as Michael Owen's metatarsal occupied his thoughts, the broken hearts belonged to Bruce and Birmingham.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham (Clemence, 88), Martin Taylor, Sadler; Pennant, Johnson, Jarosik, Gray (Campbell, 71); Forssell, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Tébily, Bruce.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Moore, Bramble, Babayaro; Solano, Faye (Boumsong, 87), N'Zogbia, Pattison (Clark, 68); Chopra (Owen, 62), Ameobi. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Elliott.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Booked: Birmingham Melchiot, Johnson; Newcastle Solano, Carr.
Man of the match: Cunningham.
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