Bolton's new manager, Sammy Lee, is one of life's indefatigable characters, but even he was downhearted yesterday after his side had succumbed to their fifth Premier League defeat in the opening six matches with a performance which he felt had virtually no redeeming features. To make the occasion even worse, a number of visiting fans presented their manager with that ominous choral tribute: "You don't know what you're doing."
Lee, an accomplished coach, certainly knows what he is trying to do, but another hyperactive afternoon on the edge of his managerial area failed to spark a suitable response from a team who continue to be less than the sum of their parts. Already last season's European ambitions are being replaced with the target of survival; already, Lee is talking about "working hard together to turn things around".
Although there was only Olivier Kapo's 37th-minute goal – created by the man of the match, Sebastian Larsson – dividing the sides, in terms of commitment the gap was huge, as Lee swiftly acknowledged. "That was one of the most disappointing games we've played," he said. "Usually we are able to take something positive from games, but today it was not just the result that disappointed, it was our performance. We didn't even compete."
Steve Bruce, by contrast, was beaming after his players responded following their dismal capitulation to Middlesbrough in their previous match. "We were the better team and we got what we deserved," he said.
Larsson was central to the home side's fortunes throughout. After four minutes he fired in a goalbound shot that rocketed away off the unwitting back of Abdoulaye Meite, and four minutes later another telling incursion took him to the six-yard box only for a desperate, but legal, challenge from behind by JLloyd Samuel preventing him striking his shot cleanly.
Soon, however, the pace and guile of El-Hadji Diouf – perhaps the one bright element for Bolton on the day – began to expose failings at the other end, and in the 24th minute he outsmarted Stephen Kelly and sent Samuel in for a fierce shot that Maik Taylor did well to block. A minute later Bolton failed to take an even clearer chance as an unmarked Andy O'Brien headed over.
A severe crocking from the fearsome Bolton captain, Kevin Nolan, put Larsson briefly out of commission, but upon his return he created the decisive goal for Birmingham with a sweetly flighted cross behind the defence that was turned over the line by Kapo's outstretched leg.
In the second half the tone of the match took a downturn as Liam Ridgewell went into the book for tripping Diouf, to be followed by Gary Speed. Just after the hour, however, football returned to the agenda as Larsson forced Jussi Jaaskelainen to beat away another angled drive, and then Daniel Braaten, having played a sweet one-two with Diouf, saw his final shot deflected by Kelly's intervention.
A trip on the edge of the box on Jerome earned O'Brien a booking and Larsson a chance to drive in a free-kick which hit the bar.Five minutes later, a Larsson cross found Johan Djourou, whose header was cleared off the line. Bolton were being run ragged. Apparently, Nicolas Anelka was playing for them.