Bolton gain huge victory in battle to avoid relegation
Sky Bet Championship: Birmingham 0 Bolton 1
Sky Bet Championship
Birmingham 0 Bolton 1
The story of the match
A truly awful match that deserved to finish goalless was won 1-0 by 7-1 outsiders Bolton as they snatched a crucial victory in their battle to avoid relegation from the Sky Bet Championship.
The game was settled by a set-piece as Callum Connolly headed home Luke Murphy's free kick after 71 minutes and Wanderers were worthy of a positive result after a battling display.
Connolly's goal, however, was a rare moment of excitement in the second half and it came shortly after Jota had nearly opened the scoring for Birmingham. His shot was tipped on to the post by Remi Matthews, who then denied Che Adams an injury-time equaliser with an excellent stop.
The opening period had been even worse with Craig Noone closest to breaking the deadlock.
Noone saw his shot saved by Lee Camp following a rare moment of decent approach play from strikers Josh Magennis and Clayton Donaldson and the rebound was struck wide.
Birmingham central midfielders Maikel Kieftenbeld and Gary Gardner missed the target from distance, while Lukas Jutkiewicz was unable to convert a clever Adams centre in a largely poor performance from the odds-on hosts.
Phil Parkinson set up Bolton in a 3-5-2 formation and it suited them well as they successfully nullified Birmingham's 4-4-2, giving the visitors an extra man in central midfield as well as a spare man defensively against City's feared front two.
Given Bolton's lack of adventure this season - they have scored only 21 goals in 32 league matches - there may have been a temptation for them to be ultra-defensive but it was a genuine 3-5-2 with wing-backs Noone and Olkowski attempting to get forward whenever possible.
There was not much in the way of intricate passing with the defenders going long to Donaldson and Magennis.
Bolton's three centre-backs - Marc Wilson, Mark Beevers and David Wheater - were excellent and Parkinson stuck with his shape even after Wilson went off injured with Jason Lowe dropping back from midfield.
There was a clear lack of creativity apart from Noone and there is little goal threat in the final third.
Magennis and Donaldson do not look a natural partnership in attack, while injuries have left an already thin squad stretched further.
Bolton only looked like scoring from a dead-ball situation, so that brings the centre-backs into play as giants Beevers and Wheater are both threats.
View from the camp
Parkinson said: "It was important to respond to the defeat to Preston on Saturday. It was a spirited performance – every single player ran themselves into the ground. They didn’t play for 45 minutes or 60 minutes, they stuck with it to the very end.
"Saturday was a disappointment but that was a full-on, committed, typical Bolton display."
This was Bolton's first league win since Boxing Day and their first on the road since August 18, so it will presumably be a huge boost to Parkinson's squad as they look to land another great escape following last season's dramatic survival act.
They battled hard and looked a disciplined side, which may actually be of slightly more benefit to them away from home, where they are not forced into acting in a more offensive manner.
However, despite this victory Bolton fully deserve to be long odds-on to go down even if Parkinson was upbeat when he stated: "We've shown everyone we are alive and kicking."
Birmingham arrived at this game on the fringes of the Championship playoff positions but this was way off the standard required and highlighted City's limitations in terms of gatecrashing the top six, although that could be taken away from them anyway with the threat of a points deduction hanging over the club.
Garry Monk's men lacked quality in every department in what was a weirdly subdued performance given the dramatic 4-3 success at QPR on Saturday where they had romped into an early four-goal advantage.
Jutkiewicz still offers plenty to the side with his hold-up play and assists, but he could definitely do with a goal - he last scored in the derby defeat to Aston Villa 15 appearances ago - and that increases the pressure on his strike partner Adams.
They looked like a team who did not enjoy facing opponents who sat off and punters should be wary of taking them at short odds, while Monk said afterwards: "You have to make the most of those few chances when Bolton come and play the way they did."
City have lost both matches to Bolton this season and also failed to beat bottom-club Ipswich at home, so there could be something in that theory to remember when Millwall visit St Andrew's in mid-March.
Birmingham 4-4-2: Camp; Harding, Morrison, Dean, Colin; Jota (Mrabti 63), Kieftenbeld (Vassell 76), Gardner (Davis 80), Maghoma; Adams, Jutkiewicz.
Bolton 3-5-2: Matthews; Wilson (Vela 65), Wheater, Beevers; Olkowski, O'Neil (Murphy h-t), Lowe, Connolly, Noone; Donaldson, Magennis.
Next three fixtures
Birmingham: Blackburn (h), Bristol City (a), Hull (a).
Bolton: Norwich (h), Leeds (a), Swansea (a).
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