Report: Birmingham City 0-1 Bolton
An industrious performance saw Wanderers run out 1-0 winners over Birmingham City in Neil Lennon’s first game in charge of the club.
Matt Mills’ 20th minute header was to prove to be the difference on the day at St Andrew’s, with Birmingham finding themselves down to ten men late on after goalkeeper Darren Randolph had fouled Craig Davies in the area.
The striker did miss the resulting spot-kick, but Wanderers held out to secure all three points in the Midlands.
There were four changes to the side who started against AFC Bournemouth a fortnight ago, with Dean Moxey, Kevin McNaughton, Darren Pratley and Liam Feeney coming into the team in place of Tim Ream, Chris Herd, Mark Davies and Craig Davies.
Wanderers’ bench also saw the inclusion of Josh Vela with recent acquisition Max Clayton also taking his place amongst the substitutes.
Wanderers started brightly with Jermaine Beckford making a number of promising runs early on, but the frontman was unable to test Birmingham keeper Darren Randolph, while Koby Arthur enjoyed the hosts’ first opportunity as Jay Spearing deflected his powerful drive out for a corner.
Dorian Dervite almost had the travelling supporters on their feet with eight minutes gone as he rose to meet Spearing’s corner-kick, but the centre-half’s header drifted agonisingly wide of the goalmouth with the Blues’ shot stopper beaten.
Lee Chung-Yong Lee almost capitalised on a mistake by former Wanderers Paul Robinson as the defender played the ball back to his own goalkeeper with the winger lurking, but the Korean was unable to take advantage as Randolph scooped the ball to safety.
Having failed to really trouble the Whites, David Cotterill came within inches of handing the home side the lead in the 15th minute, only to see his free-kick from 20 yards clip the crossbar while Demarai Gray failed to finish Clayton Donaldson’s threaded ball into the box.
After withstanding a period of pressure however, Matt Mills made Birmingham pay for squandering their own opportunities as he rose to power home a header from Spearing’s corner with 20 minutes on the clock.
Buoyed by their goal, Wanderers pushed forward relentlessly in a bid to double their advantage with Dervite and Neil Danns coming close to adding a second to Bolton’s tally.
Birmingham themselves did enjoy a chance to pull themselves level just after the half hour mark as Arthur worked his way into the box, but the combination of Moxey and Dervite pushed him wide and saw him put his effort into the side netting.
With frustration evident amongst the home side, Wanderers looked set to find the back of the net again as Pratley collected a loose ball in midfield before powering forward, but the midfielder was unable to find the feet of the advancing Beckford just inside the area.
With the half time whistle on the horizon, Birmingham almost drew level with Gray’s powerful drive from distance, only for Lonergan to deny him with a smart reflex save at his far post and ensure that Wanderers preserved their lead at the break.
Having proven himself a nuisance throughout the first half, Feeney almost had a goal in the most unusual of circumstances as his cross deflected goalwards, but the post was to be Randolph’s saviour as the ball crashed against the woodwork.
Visibly boosted, Wanderers came close yet again through Danns who collected Chung-Yong’s well placed pass, with the midfielder’s tame effort from the edge of the box collected by the Birmingham keeper.
Not to be completely deterred however, Birmingham pushed forward themselves with Arthur coming within inches of converting Gray’s pass from a matter of yards out just short of the hour mark.
Enjoying a number of chances on the counter attack, Wanderers were clearly troubling the home side with the likes of Chung-Yong and Feeney featuring prominently for the Whites.
As the half wore on, the hosts began to push forward in their numbers in a bid to take something from the game, with Lonergan again denying Gray, this time from close range in a crowded penalty area.
Despite finding themselves under pressure, Bolton were comfortably soaking up wave after wave of Birmingham City attacks and almost hit the hosts on the counter, but Pratley dragged his effort narrowly wide of the near post.
Having been a thorn in the side of the Whites defence all afternoon, Gray appeared to have drawn Birmingham level with 12 minutes remaining as his curling shot took a deflection and seemed destined for the top corner, but the fingertips of Lonergan tipped the ball onto the crossbar with the St Andrew’s faithful on their feet.
With ten minutes remaining in the clash, Wanderers were handed a glorious opportunity to secure all three points as Craig Davies, on as a substitute, was fouled by Randolph in the area with the keeper receiving a red card.
With Birmingham having used all of their substitutes, Lee Novak went in goal for the Blues, but Davies was to squander the chance as he blazed the ball over the crossbar.
In the ensuing chaos surrounding the award of the spot kick, manager Lennon was forced to see the remainder of the game out from the stands after consistent encroachment of his technical area.
As the clock rock down, Wanderers proceeded to pepper the Birmingham goal with efforts and with six minutes of added time indicated, the ten-man hosts also tried their luck, but Wanderers held out to secure all three points.