Snow flurries dotted the sky around St Andrew's last night, yet at last there was a spring in Birmingham City's step. Jiri Jarosik's fine solo goal shortly before half-time lifted them out of the Premiership relegation zone for the first time since October, simultaneously denting Bolton Wanderers' hopes of finishing in the Champions' League places.
Two enforced substitutions actually worked in Birmingham's favour, forcing Steve Bruce into a more positive formation and tricking them into a first goal from open play in seven games. For all Bolton's frantic late pressure, in which Stelios fired wide when Sam Allardyce would have put "all my money on him scoring" Maik Taylor was not overworked in the home goal as they slid to a third successive defeat.
Birmingham's season has been characterised by a plague of injuries as much as by a dearth of goals. Their casualty list grew again here, Stephen Clemence and Nicky Butt trudging off in the opening 31 minutes. As a result, however, Mikael Forssell came on to make Emile Heskey look less isolated while Jarosik switched from a position just behind the front to a central role. In the words of an ebullient Bruce, he proceeded to give "the complete midfield performance".
The Birmingham manager hailed a "huge win and a huge performance" which, he said in a clear allusion to the criticism of the co-owner David Sullivan, had "answered a few people". Bruce added: "There were lots of tired bodies out there after Saturday's 0-0 draw with Chelsea, but they came through it and not only kept a second consecutive clean sheet but won it with a fantastic goal."
Allardyce, his close friend and foe for the evening, expressed concern that Bolton - who take on Liverpool at the weekend in what will be something of a European six-pointer - might now waste a good position with a series of single-goal losses. "For the vast majority of the game we were in control," the Bolton manager said. "The best shot of the match won it, but it was really the only one they put on target."
It arrived after Jarosik, who is on long-term loan from Chelsea, swerved past Jay-Jay Okocha in the 37th minute. A swing of his left boot from 22 yards cemented his position as leading scorer with eight goals, a total which underlines Birmingham's main problem this season.
The Czech came close to a second goal when a sweeping move ended with Heskey's step-over letting the ball roll to him. His shot flew inches wide, and the fragility of the lead was emphasised as Maik Taylor saved athletically from Kevin Nolan's 20-yard strike on the stroke of half-time.
Bolton began the second half in similar fashion, a volley by Nolan thudding into Kenny Cunningham's arm. The referee was unmoved by appeals for a penalty, but while the pressure on Birmingham intensified, they held out to edge above Portsmouth and West Bromwich Albion. Bolton, who last won away in December, suddenly appear downwardly mobile.
Birmingham City (4-4-1-1): Maik Taylor; Tebily, Cunningham, Martin Taylor, Sadler; Pennant, Butt (Forssell, 31), Johnson, Clemence (Lazaridis, 8; Dunn, 87); Jarosik; Heskey. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Campbell,
Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; O'Brien (Hunt, h-t), Haim, N'Gotty, Pedersen; Diouf (Borgetti, 68), Nolan (Vaz Te, 87), Faye, Okocha, Giannakopoulos; Davies. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Nakata.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).Reuse content