Girls wept, boys raged and the men shrugged and trudged away from St Andrew's last evening as months of desperation turned into despair on an afternoon of goalless agony and high anxiety in England's second city. Not only were Steve Bruce's Birmingham City condemned to relegation, but so, too, were West Bromwich Albion, their near-neighbours and companions in the perennial struggle for Premiership survival, as Portsmouth conjured and completed a near miracle at Wigan Athletic.
On top of that misery, as Birmingham's fate was sealed after four years among the élite, there was a further scare for English football as Michael Owen, who returned to active duty as a second-half substitute for the first time since New Year's Eve, reported he did not feel completely happy with the foot he injured four months ago. "It is not a major concern, but he will probably have another scan on Monday," said Newcastle's caretaker manager, Glenn Roeder, who stressed that this depressing news did not mean yet that Sven Goran Eriksson should erase his striker's name from his thinking for England's World Cup squad.
"He's not happy, not 100 per cent," explained Roeder. "I want to tell the truth, but I don't want to create hysteria after what has happened to Wayne Rooney. Michael said it is not a major concern. He will have to see the doctors when his body has cooled down on Sunday and may need a scan on Monday. It is a case of him feeling a little discomfort and he is not over-concerned. I think it is a case of wait and see.
"He trained well this week. He did all we asked and all we wanted to see. He was twisting and turning, running and jumping with no worries. All of it. All he has now is a dull ache. I don't think it is another major scare, but it is a cause for concern."
Owen made a 30-minutes' cameo appearance, headed narrowly over the bar once and performed relatively anonymously, albeit with a sore, healed bone in his foot causing some discomfort. If he had scored, from a 69th-minute cross by Lee Clark, it might have spared Birmingham's supporters the late horror of seeing Mikael Forssell, clear with only Shay Given to beat, shoot at the goalkeeper who then produced a second exceptional save to foil Emile Heskey's follow-up shot. "It was a gilt-edged chance and we needed to take it if we were to stay up," said Steve Bruce. "But Shay did what he has done all season and made a couple of great saves and denied us.
"We needed a result and we didn't get it. We all know what dropping down a division is going to mean financially. But I must take this opportunity to say congratulations to Portsmouth and, in particular, to Harry [Redknapp]. They were just too good for the rest of us."
Bruce said he would be delighted to be offered the opportunity to continue, and to rebuild a Birmingham squad in which, he said, "seven or eight players are due to be out of contract, two are on-loan to the club and another three seriously injured... But now is not the time to talk about that."
Roeder was equally unforthcoming about his managerial future with Newcastle. "It is like the chairman said," he explained. "No one is ruled in and no one is ruled out. I am just taking it one game at a time."
When told that Alan Curbishley, a contender to take the Newcastle job, had resigned at Charlton, he said: "I am not entirely surprised to hear that. But you have to speak to him, not me, about his intentions."Reuse content