A combination of a dire performance and a terrible refereeing display saw Wanderers lose 1-0 to Birmingham City on Tuesday night, with former striker Lukas Jutkiewicz scoring the winning goal, to put Bolton right back into the relegation mire. Jutkiewicz was left unmarked from a Jacques Maghoma free-kick to fire into the roof of the net to give the Blues their third win in a row and put them level on points with Bolton.
Phil Parkinson made only one change from Wanderers’ defeat at Elland Road, with Jan Kirchhoff being replaced by Karl Henry in midfield. This meant the manager persisted with both Jon Flanagan and Andrew Taylor in the full-back positions, a decision that baffled many given their poor performances against Leeds. Taylor also retained the Captain’s armband from that defeat despite Henry’s return. Having referred to Henry as a “great leader” during the week, this seemed an odd choice too.
Wanderers managed little in the way of chances, but the much-maligned winger Will Buckley contrived to miss another header against one of his former employers. One can’t help but feel he just isn’t doing enough to earn his starting birth right now, especially given options like Zach Clough, Craig Noone and even Tyler Walker able to fill this role. Buckley’s chance aside, there was little between the two sides with David Davis having Birmingham’s best opportunity with a long-range effort that failed to trouble Ben Alnwick.
Moments later, however, the deadlock was broken as football’s oldest curse struck. Jutkiewicz, a darling of the fans during his half-season loan spell at Wanderers, found himself free from a teasing Maghoma delivery and slid in to score only his 2nd league goal of the season and his first in 6 months. At this stage there was an eerie sense of déjà vu from Bolton’s defeat at home to Burton earlier in the season where Lloyd Dyer scored the winner. The goal was a heavy blow, and given the Blues’ backing of over 4,800 supporters, one knew it would be a huge task to deprive them of the 3 points from this position.
In a situation like this Wanderers needed a helping hand and Birmingham’s young Wes Harding provided them with it early in the second-half, clearing handling a Buckley cross with his arm outstretched. The referee, Oliver Langford, has a bad reputation and lived up to it here, ignoring the claims for a penalty that surely would have led to an equaliser with Adam Le Fondre on the pitch. It was so blatant that Chris Price forgot himself whilst providing the commentary for Tower FM, referring to Mr. Langford as a “stupid moron”. Having seen the replays, it’s hard to disagree with him.
The referee did, however, provide Wanderers with a route back into the game moments later. Che Adams, Birmingham’s gifted forward, lunged into a tackle on substitute Craig Noone just outside his own box and Langford sent him off after some deliberation. With over 25 minutes left in the game, Bolton had a lifeline. The problem was they couldn’t seem to create anything despite their man advantage and their only shot of note came from Le Fondre with a long-range looping effort onto the roof of the net.
Alfie did have another chance later on but saw his shot blocked, yet again, by a Birmingham hand and still Langford refused to give it. While this wasn’t as blatant as the earlier hand ball, replays show that the defender had his arm outstretched to block a goal bound shot. Despite not deserving anything, Wanderers were robbed here.
The final minutes passed by with little incident with Bolton only having a Noone shot blocked, representing a very poor effort in a must-win game against 10 men. Birmingham’s win sees them in inspired form going into the final 6 matches and looking a decent bet to stay up under Gary Monk’s tutelage. Bolton have to hope that Barnsley lose to Nottingham Forest in their game in hand to remain 5 points behind them or win at Pride Park for the first time since 1999. Wanderers still have their future in their hands, but this result is a huge blow to their survival chances. It’s squeaky bum time.