Bolton Wanderers 3 Birmingham City 0: Anelka's burst of brilliance darkens off-colour Blues

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The Independent Football

January will be a tense month for Bolton and their supporters as they sweat on the future of Nicolas Anelka. The Frenchman was kept under wraps by Birmingham for most of the game at the Reebok Stadium, only to burst free to set up one goal and score two in the last quarter, to take his tally for the season to 11.

Bolton's next best is three, from Kevin Nolan and El Hadji Diouf, so the importance of still having Anelka on the books after the transfer window is clear.

Conjecture will always surround a player with Anelka's career pattern at this time of year, but Megson was not keen to add to it on Saturday. "All I've heard is what people tell me is in the papers, but no one has asked me whether we want to let Nicolas go," the Bolton manager said.

The answer to that question, when and if it is asked, is blindingly obvious. The Frenchman's two goals on Saturday were both products of rapid reaction to unexpected situations, created by the opposition inexplicably giving the ball away. There was also a glaring defensive error involved in Diouf's goal, but his overall display, stretching the visitors repeatedly on both sides of the pitch, was every bit as good as Anelka's.

"There has been a lot of onus on Nicolas, but we've started now to get one or two other people on the score sheet," Megson said.

"That's two in a week from Diouf and he knows he needs to start scoring more goals." Although their goals took a frustratingly long time to arrive, there were other things to admire about Bolton's game.

Megson memorably remarked last week that while Andy O'Brien is not exactly Bobby Moore or Franz Beckenbauer, he has become vitally important to the Wanderers' defence.

In his absence from their last two League matches, Bolton had conceded eight goals. With him restored to the back four, they immediately looked harder to break down, although it has to be admitted that City were not the most threatening of opponents or even the easiest on the eye.

Birmingham committed the ultimate 20th century heresy of running out at a stadium christened by a sportswear company in mismatched kit.

As if to ensure an off-colour performance, City played in their red away shorts and their blue home shirts, the away ones having gone missing in a van caught up in heavy traffic. What a picture of Premier League football in 2007 that conjures up, when shirts and shorts apparently travel to away venues by separate transport. What next? A motorcycle dispatch rider just for the socks?

Despite their clashing kit, Alex McLeish believed that his side were well in the game until they lapsed into grotesque over-generosity in the final 20 minutes.

They could even have taken the lead if Jussi Jaaskelainen had not stuck out a foot to keep out Gary McSheffrey's free-kick, but that would not have disguised the fact that the former Scotland manager has much to do if he is to arrest their slide. He admits that he will be busy during the transfer window and those who made glaring errors on Saturday are on a warning that their places are anything but secure.

Goals: Diouf (72) 1-0; Anelka (78) 2-0; Anelka (90) 3-0.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, O'Brien, Meite, Gardner; Campo (McCann, 58); Davies (Samuel, 79), Guthrie, Nolan, Diouf; Anelka. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), Speed, Giannakopoulos.

Birmingham City (4-5-1): Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Schmitz, Sadler (Kapo h-t); Larsson, Muamba, Djourou, Johnson, McSheffrey (O'Connor); Jerome. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Forssell, Nafti.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside)

Booked: Bolton Hunt, Gardner, Diouf; Birmingham City Jaidi, Johnson

Man of the match: Diouf.

Attendance: 19,111.

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