Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Great Escape

When I started supporting Birmingham City in 1980, we were a club famed for its successful scrapes against relegation: the 1920s, 1930s, 1960s and 1970s. That carried on into the 80s, where we managed four narrow escapes, but ended in 1993 when an offside goal from Paul Moulden gave us a 1-0 win over Charlton to stay in the (old) Second Division.

Yesterday, for the first time in 21 years, we performed another Great Escape. Let's be honest, before yesterday we were dead and buried. We went into our final match, at bogey club Bolton, needing a minimum of a point and for other results to go our way, specifically a Doncaster loss at Leicester. Ironically, playing our last match away from home was actually an advantage - we've set a league record of 18 games without a home win, and lost our previous two matches (2-4, 0-1) to slide into the relegation zone.

So those were the stats (I won't add that we were on a horrific run of form). We battered Bolton first half, but failed to score, so it was inevitable they'd get the first goal on 57 minutes. Then Doncaster conceded a soft penalty and Leicester scored to lead 1-0, so now we only needed to equalise to stay up. Except we promptly conceded a second on 76 minutes.

So, with 14 minutes plus stoppage time to go, we were 2-0 down. Based on our previous form we were relegated. But the 4,000 travelling support lifted the team, and amazingly we pulled one back just two minutes later through talismanic striker Nikola Zigic. But we couldn't force the equaliser as the clock ticked down, until the board went up - six added minutes!

Three minutes in, Lee Novak swung in a poor cross, it bobbled a bit, Jordan Ibe fired the ball in, it ping-ponged up in the air and Nikola Zigic headed downwards towards goal. One Bolton defender deflected it up with his foot, another - wearing a face mask - nodded it away from under the bar. And there was Paul Caddis, to jump like a salmon and nod a neat header from all of one yard out into the back of the net.

Cue delirium.

Full match highlights here:

Or just listen to the mayhem via the Sky Sports Newsroom here:

The weird thing is, we've all compared this to winning the Carling Cup in 2011. For the future of the club, it could prove critical seeing as we're hopefully going to change hands this summer. There are big questions to be asked over the next few months, the club will be ripped up from top to bottom and we could simply find ourselves relegated next season, but at his point, the feelings of ecstacy are only just starting to dim.

Some facts that might explain why we feel like we do:
1. Finally won a nail-biting survival battle for the first time in 21 years. 20 years ago we were relegated to League One with 51 points on the last day, so maybe there are parallels with what happened two decades (two decades? Gulp!) ago.
2. This was how we should have felt three years ago, except we were relegated in the last minute in our Carling Cup winning season, again with a points tally (39, would have been 40 if we hadn't been chasing the game desperately) that would have seen us safe nine seasons out of 10.
3.  This season we've stayed up with 44. That's pathetic, frankly, and we don't deserve it (but then would Doncaster have deserved to stay up having also only got 44 points?). But seeing as we've been relegated with larger points tallies, perhaps that's the point - we were owed this one, for 1994 and 2011 (and possibly even 2008 too).

From a personal point of view, I've not been feeling great lately, so it's a timely reminder that sometimes, just sometimes, Birmingham City FC can lift your mood.

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