18 October 2014 - Birmingham City (4-2-5, 15th place) v Bolton Wanderers (8-2-1, 1st place)
Championship Match Day #12 – St. Andrew’s, Birmingham
"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." – Robert Wolfe
As the coach turned onto Cattell Road off the A45 roundabout through Bordesley, I put away a copy of a book I’ve been reading since the day I was hired.
“You Can’t Go Home Again”
was compiled from Robert Wolfe’s unpublished manuscript known as “The October Fair”,
which, given the time of year, also seemed fitting.
Wolfe’s doppleganger, George Webber, is given the words at the top of this entry and they were on my mind as I left the coach, to be greeted at the players’ door by a large group of blue-clad fans and manager Lee Clark, who was waiting inside.
“Welcome home, Bobby,” he said diplomatically, extending his hand. I had played against Lee when he first was with Newcastle and then with Sunderland in the Premier League, so his face wasn’t unfamiliar to me.
“Thank you,” I replied just as diplomatically, turning to give a wave to the fans assembled behind barricades placed on either side of the door. In a profound way, this was indeed ‘home’ in a footballing sense.
I had played here as a visitor only once, in a League Cup match in my second and final season with Watford. By then I was a squad player, a veteran who couldn’t give ninety minutes each week any more but who could put some life into an attack for the last half hour if need be. I came on as a substitute in a 2-1 loss and I didn’t score against my old team, which was probably for the best.
My reception had been very warm that night and I expected it would be again in a few hours as I put my things in the visiting manager’s office. But I knew full well that once the match started I’d be just the ‘other boss’ and therefore subject to the same scorn as anyone else facing the Blues on their own patch.
There was a slight difference this time, though. For the first and only time this season, I didn’t spend the night prior to the match with the team. I spent it at home, with Blake and Kim.
I returned the boy to Holly and Darin that morning before leaving for the team hotel, and, in the midst of barely-concealed hostility between Darin and Kim, did just that.
They headed to the ground. Darin and Holly were bringing Blake to the match at my request – but they were guests of the Birmingham board since Blake was with his mother. That little detail was worked out by Kim, in communication with the Blues’ front office. And if she was angry about it, as she probably was, she didn’t say so to me.
They were sat in the club’s 1875 Suite, while my girlfriend traveled with the Bolton official party. Blake had wanted to wear his Bolton shirt but that would hardly have done in Birmingham’s hospitality area, so my son sat at a window seat with a chocolate drink and a Birmingham blue shirt on instead.
There was an air of familiarity about the pre-match preparation but in the end, my pre-match team talk made no mention whatever of anything personal from me. I concentrated on the match at hand and told the players to go from strength to strength.
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Bogdán: McNaughton, Wheater (captain), Mills, Vermijl, Trotter, Hall, Vela, Moxey, C. Davies, Beckford. Subs: Lonergan, Dervite, Feeney, Danns, M. Davies, Iliev, Clough.
With that, the players lined up and I stood at the back of the line, to follow my team onto the pitch where I had played for so many years. The lines began to move forward and when I finally reached the pitch, the fans gave me quite a warm reception indeed.
It was a shame the grand old place was only half full, but I still stood briefly on the touchline and applauded the fans on all sides, first turning to my right to face the Railway Stand, where the visiting supporters were housed, and then turning in a slow circle to my right to the Main Stand, the Tilton Road end and finally the Kop Stand across from the players benches.
Once the match started, though, it was all business and that’s the way it ought to be. From that moment, I was no longer a Blue and it hurt for a few moments but once we made the first big mistake of the match, the past was forgotten.
It was Vela, who has been bugging me for playing time, who made it, and it took him less than ten minutes.
On Birmingham’s first serious foray forward, Vela upended David Cotterill just inside the area. I thought Cotterill made a meal of it, as he fell heavily to minimal contact, but there was just enough in it to give them a spot kick six minutes into the match.
All I had to do was look at the twenty-year old midfielder to let him know that if he wants more playing time, there are better ways for him to earn it. There had been contact, and Vela had made the referee make a decision. That’s all an attacking player wants to do in the box anyway, and the referee’s decision was to put them twelve yards from goal.
Cotterill took the ball, placed it on the spot like it was made of crystal, and then took one of the worst penalties I’ve ever seen. He smashed it straight down the middle, thinking Bogdán would dive to either side.
The problem was that Cotterill kept his eyes right on the target throughout, and my keeper earned the easiest penalty save of his life simply by staying rooted to the spot.
He beat the ball straight down into the ground and leapt up to control the rebound, ending that threat almost literally as soon as it began. The home crowd howled with disappointment and Bogdán resumed play with a quick throw to Vermijl on his left.
The penalty miss gave us – and especially Vela – a big lift and it didn’t take us long to take advantage.
So much of our attacking play seems to be going through Moxey at the moment, and when he’s in midfield as opposed to left back we are a much better team.
So it should not have been a surprise to anyone that our fightback would come through him.
He and Vermijl worked a very nice little overlap a few minutes after the penalty miss, with the full back dropping the ball to the midfielder at the corner of the penalty area. His cross found Hall slashing in from the back post and he turned the ball home with no difficulty to give us the lead in fifteen minutes.
You could have heard a pin drop outside the Railway Stand, where the away fans allotment was filled and screaming behind the mesh covering used there to segregate from the home support.
We had gotten the first two big breaks of the match and also got the third three minutes later, when McNaughton’s run down the right went unchecked by the Blues defence. His cross to the left was inch-perfect – and found Moxey, who deserved a goal after setting up our first.
Just like that we were two to the good, Birmingham’s confidence was shattered and we looked great value just eighteen minutes into the match.
We were playing efficiently and well – and with the team having bailed out Vela, the young midfielder now had an element of confidence to his game. I was impressed with how he had bounced back from giving up the penalty and my shouted words of encouragement from the touchline were finding a receptive ear.
We dropped back a bit to consolidate our lead, and that strategy worked beautifully right up until a goal against the run of play got them right back into the match three minutes before halftime.
The recipient was David Davis, one of the few players to move between West Midlands clubs and make an impact. The former Wolves trainee shook loose in the centre of our defence to bundle home the rebound of a shot from the luckless Cotterill to get them a goal their play hardly deserved.
We still controlled the match, but obviously our margin for error was gone. At halftime, I reminded the team that we were playing well and, in essence, that accidents do happen.
“Mind your responsibilities on the defensive side,” I reminded them. “We have a lot of work to do yet but we’re the better side today and I think there’s better in you.”
As I left the room, Spooner stepped forward.
“The gaffer has a stake in this one, lads,” he said softly as I closed the door behind me to pace the hallway. “Let’s be sure to give him the three points today.”
Beckford had struggled throughout the first half and I brought on Clough for him at the interval to see if his youthful legs and enthusiasm could get us a goal through pace. Iliev sat quietly, wondering if he was going to get his senior debut, but I had already determined that wouldn’t happen except as a last resort.
The second half started much like the first, with Birmingham on the front foot. The difference was that they didn’t wind up on the penalty spot, which certainly helped from my point of view.
We absorbed their best shot in the first ten minutes of the half, and finally our high pressure on the ball began to tell as their midfield really tired through having to chase the game. Vela was especially good in this role, with a lot of help from Trotter in the holding role. Spearing got the match off to prepare for Charlton so Trotter was the guy today.
And how. He worked smoothly and well with Vela and it wasn’t hard to notice. But finally he began to tire and twelve minutes from time I lifted him in favour of Mark Davies.
Birmingham pushed forward but never seriously threatened and as Davies came on, I shifted our alignment to 4-2-3-1 with a counter instruction to try to kill off the match.
The counter worked better than the high-pressure style to kill off the game. Deep into injury time, we worked the ball forward on the break with Mark and Craig Davies working a great little one-two combination in front of goal, with the ball sliding in front to an unmarked Clough.
The 19-year old striker walked the ball into the goal for his first goal since the opening match, which will do wonders for his confidence and which helped us sew up the points.
The full-time whistle blew and to polite applause from the hometown faithful, I saluted the fans one more time – as a winning manager.
Match Summary (4-1-3-2): Bodgán: McNaughton, Wheater (captain), Mills (Dervite 87), Vermijl, Trotter (M. Davies 78), Hall, Vela, Moxey, C. Davies, Beckford (Clough 45). Unused subs: Lonergan, Feeney, Danns, Iliev.
Birmingham City 1 (David Davis 42, David Cotterill m/p 6)
Bolton Wanderers 3 (Hall 15, Moxey 18, Clough 90+3)
A: 15,146, St. Andrew’s, Birmingham
Man of the Match: Dean Moxey, Bolton (MR 8.9)
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