Phillips puts his case to join the 40 club

Birmingham City 2 Bolton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Football

Alex McLeish collared each Birmingham man to offer encouragement and reiterate tactical instructions before they faced Bolton. On reaching Kevin Phillips, the manager's words drew on years spent burning the midnight oil studying for coaching certificates: "Just do what you do."

Phillips duly volleyed a fine goal three and a half minutes into his first starting role in this season's Premier League, setting up a win that lifted Birmingham out of the bottom three. The performance of the division's oldest outfield player – he will be 38 in July – prompted McLeish to make positive comparisons with a stripling superstar four months his junior.

"It's only when players get more mature that they realise it's not going to be forever," said McLeish. "Ryan Giggs changed his lifestyle and dedicated himself to still being around at this age and playing 90 minutes at Manchester United at Champions League and Premier League level. Kevin has done similar. He just wants to play and feels he's still got it. He's comparing himself to people who played until 40, such as Gordon Strachan and Teddy Sheringham."

Strachan attributed his longevity to eating bananas and seaweed. "Gordon couldn't spell banana when he was 20. He ate pork pies then. But we had a teetotal right-back called Stuart Kennedy who brought in books about the diets of Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova. That's when we started good eating habits."

Phillips was slow to emerge after the game and admitted: "I was in the bath. I can't do what I did 10 years ago and go out to a nightclub until 4am." Accepting he would spend the week "wrapped in cotton wool", he added: "This confirmed to me I can definitely play another year at this level."

Craig Gardner fired Birmingham's second goal before Johan Elmander replied for Bolton. The FA Cup semi-finalists pressed hard but were frustrated by goalkeeper Ben Foster.

Scorers: Birmingham Phillips 4, Gardner 59 Bolton Elmander 70

Substitutes: Birmingham Fahey 5 (Bowyer, 64), Bentley 5 (Carr, 69), Zigic (Jerome, 76). Bolton

Lee 5 (Cohen, 64), Klasnic (Petrov, 73), Taylor (Muamba, 79).

Booked: Bolton Alonso, Wheater.

Man of the match Foster. Match rating 6/10

Possession Birmingham 51%, Bolton 49%.

Attempts on target: Birmingham 7, Bolton 12.

Referee M Oliver (N'erland). Attendance 26,142.