It is no secret Alex McLeish is jostling with the biggest injury list in the top flight, so the 4,000 travelling Wanderers fans rightfully saw this as a great chance to reach the semi-finals of a competition they last won in 1958. Lee Bowyer, Scott Dann, Craig Gardner and loanee David Bentley and are among those in Birmingham’s treatment room, where as Trotters manager Owen Coyle had minimal injury problems to contend with.
With nine key men unavailable, McLeish made five changes from the midweek draw at Everton, with veteran striker Kevin Phillips and midfielder Barry Ferguson both starting. As for Coyle, he made just one change from last weekend’s win over Aston Villa, with Ivan Klasnic replacing the cup-tied Daniel Sturridge.
On paper these two sides personify the more robust characteristic of football and for the opening 20 minutes, direct football overpowered finesse, as both sides bypassed midfield. With the mounting injury list already of prominence for the Blues, the last thing they needed was Martin Jiranek and Barry Ferguson hobbling off in quick succession as the match reached the half-hour mark. However, one of these enforced changes saw17-year-old Nathan Redmond replace Ferguson for only his third substitute appearance – his composure on the right-side totally defying his fledgling status.
Johan Elmander, who started wide right for Bolton, was one of the game’s brightest sparks as Birmingham continued to struggle with the visitor’s energy in the final third, and this was epitomised with the three away goals resulting from McLeish’s side failing to clear their lines, as Bolton subsequently ground-out a hat-trick of goal-scoring chances.
However, it should not be underestimated the part Birmingham played in this absorbing cup tie, as for every Wanderers goal proved a catalyst for response from the hosts. Phillips, despite being on the losing side, looked to thoroughly enjoy his afternoon as he occupied the space just behind main striker Cameron Jerome. The 37-year-old tirelessly harassed the visitors’ rearguard and got his just-reward with a typically instinctive, late equaliser. Coyle threw Lee into the fold for the ineffective Klasnic on the hour mark and pushed Elmander into attack to partner Kevin Davies. It was the captain who set up the winning goal for the diminutive South Korean, after Birmingham again failed to deal with another ball into the box.
Birmingham will now hone their efforts into the unappealing prospect of a relegation fight whilst Bolton have an FA Cup semi-final to look forward for the first time in over a decade, after a game of football which encapsulated everything good about the oldest knockout competition in football.