Forssell and Hughes prolong Bolton's hangover

Birmingham City 2 Bolton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Football

Eight League games without defeat now, and a morale-boosting fifth place in the Premiership table. No wonder Birmingham and their followers are starting to relish the prospect of European football next season. Certainly Bolton did little to stand in their way, playing as if defeat in last Sunday's Carling Cup final had seeped into their souls.

Manager Steve Bruce praised his team's unbeaten run as "staggering'' but added the cautionary note, "there is a third of the season left, which is a long time, so we are not going to get carried away. But we have given ourselves an excellent opportunity and we are enjoying it.''

With Damien Johnson's intelligent play cutting them to ribbons on the left, Bolton were fortunate to escape with nothing worse than a two-goal defeat. The opener was put in by Mikael Forssell, that precious loan commodity from Chelsea, his 14th of the season, and Johnson floated over a perfect centre for Bryan Hughes to head his first League goal of this campaign.

This win notched up a small double, since Birmingham had defeated the Carling Cup winners, Middlesbrough, in midweek. Despite his squad being reduced to 17 fit outfield players, Bruce's team set about Bolton from the start. Simon Charlton was harassed throughout by Clinton Morrison's pace, while Anthony Barness could make little of Johnson's intentions. With Robbie Savage also clamping a grip in midfield, Bolton struggled to stay at the races and must have realised it was not going to be their afternoon when Jay-Jay Okocha, master of dead-ball situations, lofted an early free-kick yards over the bar.

It certainly wasn't Okocha's afternoon, the captain being substituted after an hour because of what Bolton manager Sam Allardyce called a "limited contribution'', blaming his lack of form on slow recovery from last month's African Cup of Nations.

Birmingham went in front after 23 minutes, inevitably through the involvement of Johnson, who crossed from near the right corner flag. Morrison flicked it on, wrong-footing Bolton's defenders. The bouncing ball almost fooled Forssell, too, but the fact that his volley was partly mis-kicked proved decisive as Jussi Jaaskelainen's glove could do no more than delay the ball's progress into the net. It was, said Allardyce, "a scruffy goal''.

The recipients of a half-time rollicking, Bolton resumed with more commitment but were unlucky to lose Youri Djorkaeff after just three minutes with a hamstring strain. Six minutes after Okocha's grumpy departure direct to the dressing room, Birmingham wrapped it up. Morrison sent Johnson away on the right and the cross from the byline was so good that Hughes had to do little more than let it strike his head as he stood virtually beneath the crossbar.

The gap should have been widened. Johnson was guilty of rolling an easy chance wide, while Jaaskelainen pulled off a brilliant stop from Forssell, Morrison making a mess of the rebound. Bolton might even have got one back, but when they won a rare corner an even rarer shot, delivered by Charlton, was beaten away by Maik Taylor.

Having contented himself for most of the match with lectures when cards might have been in order, referee Andy D'Urso finally produced his book late on, first to Savage and then Nicky Hunt.

Birmingham City 2 Bolton Wanderers 0
Forssell 24, Hughes 69

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 28,003