Steve Bruce has been asked some difficult questions in his time but few were as loaded as this one. Would he be an Aston Villa supporter for a day?
The Birmingham City manager smiled, thought carefully, and then replied: "I can't say that, can I? That would put the icing on the cake." Then, just to make sure there could be no misinterpretation, Bruce added: "No."
Rather than watch yesterday's relegation summit between Villa and West Bromwich Albion, Bruce was making sure his loyalties could not be divided. "I'm going to the pub," he said, while no doubt hoping that his players do nothing as risky. The way things have gone for Birmingham, a packet of wine gums could instigate an outbreak of lock-jaw.
All season Bruce has been berating the fates that have deprived him of vital players and this match was evidence in support. Approaching what is something like a full squad for the first time, he had the luxury of introducing David Dunn and Mikael Forssell for the final 25 minutes and the result was a point from circumstances that would probably have yielded nothing earlier in an unhappy campaign.
Wigan Athletic, who have not won at home in the Premiership since Boxing Day, were leading through Andreas Johansson's sixth goal of the season, when Emile Heskey sped down the left wing and crossed for Dunn to force the ball over the line. It was a goal of considerable significance, and one that had both managers thinking wistfully.
Bruce, who had watched his side take five points off the champions-elect and two teams chasing European places in a week, felt the manner of the comeback had shown the team had overcome the shock to the system caused by the collapse against Liverpool three weeks ago. "I couldn't be more pleased with the way we have bounced back," he said. "We've done our talking on the pitch and come out fighting.
"Now we've given ourselves a chance of avoiding relegation and I just hope that everyone stays healthy for the final five games. I would love to put Forssell, Dunn and Muzzy Izzet on the pitch and just let them play, but they have been out for 18 months and that's not possible. We just have to manage the situation so that we can get the best out of them," Bruce added.
The paradox was that, while Bruce was praying everyone stays fit, Wigan's Paul Jewell saw the Birmingham goal and wished his players would risk injury to get the same rewards.
"We don't score enough goals like that," he said, "scruffy goals. Not enough of my players come away with a cut eye, or a kick in the teeth, and a goal.
"We've played plenty of balls across the box this season and maybe we don't gamble, aren't brave enough or mentally quick enough. David Dunn is not a natural goal scorer but he had the desire to make sure he got on the end of it."
Desire. Bravery. Speed. Never mind Villa, Bruce was drinking to those three yesterday.
Goals: Johansson (48) 1-0; Dunn (77) 1-1.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Chimbonda, Scharner, De Zeeuw, Baines (Ziegler, 42); Teale, Bullard, Kavanagh, McCulloch; Roberts, Johansson (Camara, 78). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Jackson, Thompson.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Tebily, Cunningham, Martin Taylor, Sadler; Pennant, Izzet (Dunn 65), Jarosik, Johnson; Sutton (Forssell, 65), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Upson, Campbell.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).
Booked: Birmingham City Tebily, Pennant.
Man of the match: Bullard.
Attendance: 18,669.Reuse content