Bolton keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen provided the main talking point as his rash antics almost came at the cost of tarnishing their unbeaten start to the season.
There was much hype going into Sunday’s early afternoon kick-off- with both sides looking to build on a win and a draw from their first two games. Both Birmingham City and Bolton had also been tipped by bookies in pre-season to finish in the top-half of the table, and with Wanderers playing at home; there was a window of opportunity to get ahead of the competition.
Owen Coyle had insisted his team would be able to remain compact despite fielding the same attacking line-up that beat West Ham last week. Birmingham boss Alex McLeish on the other hand seemed reluctant to seize the opportunity at hand. There were spaces for new signings Nikola Zigic and Matt Derbyshire on the bench, as Cameron Jerome was left to battle it out on his own up-front. The five man midfield included Lee Bowyer and Barry Ferguson who had presumably been told to track the runs of playmakers Martin Petrov and Lee Chung-Yong- a role that is regularly employed by McLeish. As a result it was presumed that both sides would spend a frustrating 90 minutes simply cancelling each other out. Fortunately for those that tuned in, it wasn’t the case. Coyle’s side was neither compact nor tight for Birmingham’s opener- Roger Johnson darting from the opposite box to finish after several eluded tackles. Things then turned drastically worse for the Trotters following a strange turn of events.
Most people carry with them the view that all goalkeepers are crazy. And despite Finnish keeper Jaaskelainen having to withstand footballs being pelted at him for a living, he didn’t take too kindly to a stray leg from scorer Johnson. In what usually ends with a few animated words followed by a punt up field, the slight clash between keeper and defender following a catch from a high ball seemingly brought the game to life. In a moment of madness, the Fin slapped the former Cardiff man in the face for his small dig to his arm, before kicking the ball out to start an attack. Johnson didn’t even need to go down in a heap- the whistle blew, and Jaaskelainen was left trying to protest his terrible case for defence. Who was to make for their 22 year-old sub stopper Adam Bogdan was confirmed around two minutes after the incident. Bulgarian Petrov taking offence to the decision that he probably didn’t see, before unleashing a tirade on Johnson. His booking for dissent forced Coyle to take him off, which he astonishingly accepted. Only to continue to vent his anger out on Birmingham’s bench. The melee fizzed out, but the tackles flew as the half ended on a major talking point.
The fin’s burst looked to cost Bolton more as the away side took control of possession and Craig Gardner’s tap-in handed them with an almighty uphill battle. But battle they did, and Kevin Davies’ presence proved too much for man of the moment Johnson, as he conceded a penalty for bundling over the target-man. Davies buried his spot kick, and the story took another twist. Coyle brought on Robbie Blake for the last 20 minutes, and his perfectly curled free-kick completed the comeback for the Whites.
It’s well known that Coyle backs his team through thick and thin. And despite almost costing them the game, the Scot decided to comment on the bigger picture at hand: “Jussi feels badly about it, but what I will say is that he saved us last week and was pivotal in the victory at West Ham.” He then went on to praise his sides willingness to not throw in the towel despite trailing for most of the match: “The performance epitomised what our football club is all about. There was quality, but on top of all that there was the hunger to keep going to the final whistle and to try and retrieve a point from a difficult situation.”
Assuming that Jaaskelainen will serve his three match ban, the club now have to make decisions as to how they will replace him. Bogdan’s clean sheet on his debut against Southampton last week as well as a few handy saves at the end of Sunday’s game puts him in pole position for a start, but can they rely on someone so inexperienced? Usual back-up keeper Ali Al-Habsi’s loan move to Wigan Athletic hasn’t helped matters- the Oman stopper was even voted man of the match for his side’s 0-1 at Tottenham Hotspur. As a last resort the transfer window shuts at 6pm Tuesday, but the loan market stays open for another week should the Trotter’s want to draft in an emergency keeper.