Wigan Athletic 2 Birmingham City 0: Taylor dives back in at deep end but Wigan namesake sinks City
Sunday 06 April 2008
Martin Taylor has known worse afternoons, notably Saturday 23 February, the last occasion on which he pulled on a Birmingham City shirt. The big central defender was back in first-team action yesterday, six weeks on from the mistimed challenge that left Arsenal's Eduardo da Silva with a dislocated ankle and compound fracture of the left leg. He did not enjoy the happiest of returns as Birmingham's safety bandwagon ran up against the buffers of a superior Wigan team managed by the man who spent six years building the bulk of the side that remains at St Andrew's, Steve Bruce.
Taylor was caught short of pace in the move that led to the first of two goals struck past his namesake in the Birmingham goal, Maik Taylor, by the home player with the same surname: Ryan Taylor. To his credit, there was a redeeming goal-line clearance by Martin before this tale of three Taylors was reduced to two with his substitution in the 72nd minute.
By then, City were down to 10 men and Martin Taylor was wearing the captain's armband, Damien Johnson having been sent off seven minutes before the interval for a two-footed tackle on Kevin Kilbane. And Wigan were well on the way to adding three points to the handy cushion they now enjoy above the Premier League relegation zone.
"Five months ago, when I came through the door here, we were almost adrift with Derby," Bruce reflected afterwards. "All credit to the players: that was probably our best performance since I came here. But we've got a nice, easy one next week: Chelsea away."
It was never likely to be easy for the returning Taylor yesterday, once Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager, had inked his name on the team-sheet. He received a warm reception from the visiting supporters, and also a quiet word before kick-off from Mike Dean, the referee who red-carded him for that unfortunate challenge back in February. Like the rest of the City team, though, he was a step behind the Wigan players from the start.
Marcus Bent had already spurned a couple of openings before Wigan struck in the 15th minute. Antonio Valencia breezed past Martin Taylor on the right edge of the area and squared the ball to Ryan Taylor, who drilled home a low shot from 15 yards. If that was bad enough for the visitors, their plight could have got a lot worse before half-time.
While Chris Kirkland fiddled with his thumbs in the home goal, Maik Taylor twice came to Birmingham's rescue, saving goal-bound efforts from Paul Scharner and Emile Heskey. Martin Taylor also blocked a stinging drive from the lively Valencia, Scharner smacked a shot off the left post, and Bent curled a low effort wide. As it was, the only further damage Birmingham suffered before the interval was the loss of Johnson, who drew a straight red card.
It took Birmingham until first-half injury time to muster a threat, Mikaël Forssell chipping a shot wide from 20 yards out. Any prospect of a salvage operation effectively came to an end in the 56th minute. City failed to clear a Valencia cross into the box and, after Bent miscued a shot, Maik Taylor could only parry a follow-up effort from Scharner, and Ryan Taylor turned in the loose ball from close range. The only positive for City thereafter was Martin Taylor calmly clearing a Bent shot from the goalmouth.
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