Dowie haunted by fortune of relegations past

Birmingham City 0 Hull City 0
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The Independent Online

Five years on, the memory of a late intervention by a player with the darkly ironic name of Fortune still haunts Iain Dowie – and drives his bid to avoid an unwanted personal hat-trick with Hull City.

Dowie, Hull's acting manager for the past four games, claimed a moral victory after they ground out a point against a Birmingham side who are unbeaten at home since September. A year ago he was Alan Shearer's deputy at Newcastle as another temporary role ended in relegation, but the experience that is seared into his psyche is Crystal Palace's fate on the final day of 2004-05.

Palace led 2-1 at Charlton, a score that would have guaranteed their safety. "What happened still hangs over me, and I wake up at nights thinking about it," said Dowie, their manager on the afternoon when the story became West Bromwich Albion's great escape. "We're eight minutes away and we give away a silly free-kick [from which Jonathan Fortune equalised]."

The difference between Palace and Hull, Dowie explained, is that his latest employers' wage bill is "a great deal more". With debts of £25m, and Hull committed to an £18m outlay on salary and bonuses for Jimmy Bullard, beating the drop would have a significance beyond the issue of preserving their status.

Three of the remaining fixtures are at home, starting with Aston Villa on Wednesday, while the final chance to win an away match is a six-pointer at Wigan.

"This is a big point but we'll only know how big when that final bell tolls," Dowie said.

"We've got to have a bit more guile in front of goal, but that's a big clean sheet against a team who are very good at home."

Defending his conservative tactics, which involved Hull playing a solitary striker, he argued that denying Birmingham a goal was all-important after the four-goal capitulation to Burnley.

Last Tuesday, he called the players in for a "no-holds barred, nitty-gritty meeting where a few home truths were told", and he was delighted by the response at St Andrew's.

"We'll see whether we have the quality in the next four games. I believe we have," he added. According to Dowie, however, it is no longer simply about playing ability and managerial acumen. "I think it was [American sprinter] Michael Johnson who said the mental side of it is crucial. Athletically, he knew he was good enough. It was just a matter of putting the demons to one side."

Birmingham's next match is also against Villa, on Sunday. Alex McLeish's side must hope the occasion, and local honour, snaps them out of a seven-game run without a win.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart; Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Gardner, Ferguson, Bowyer, Fahey (Larsson, 63); Jerome, McFadden (Phillips, 60). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Benitez, Michel, Parnaby, Vignal.

Hull City (4-5-1): Duke; McShane, Sonko, Mouyokolo, Dawson; Fagan, Bullard, Boateng, Cairney, Kilbane; Vennegoor of Hesselink (Altidore, 75). Substitutes not used: Myhill (gk), Barmby, Geovanni, Marney, Cooper, Olofinjana.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

Man of the match: Bullard.

Attendance: 26,669.

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