BLUES AVOID ‘AR­MAGED­DON’

Tear­ful boss calls for ac­tion

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

WE’LL keep right on to the end of the road, sing the Birm­ing­ham fans. And boy, did their team ever fol­low that ad­vice.

Dead, buried, done for; with 14 min­utes to go and Bolton 2-0 up, not even the hardi­est Blues fan be­lieved their boys would be in the Cham­pi­onship next sea­son.

This is a side who haven’t won at home since Oc­to­ber.Who haven’t kept a clean sheet in 16 games.Who haven’t even col­lected a point for a month. It sim­ply wasn’t pos­si­ble they could score twice.

But 15 crazy, won­der­ful, in­ex­pli­ca­ble min­utes later, that’s ex­actly what they had done. As Sir Alex Fer­gu­son said: “Foot­ball, bloody hell!”

Lee Clark has never been the type of man­ager to mouth plat­i­tudes. He wears his heart on his sleeve, dis­sect­ing per­for­mances with a raw, emo­tional hon­esty that is of­ten painful to watch.

Be­fore the match, he had warned that rel­e­ga­tion to the third tier for the first time in 20 years spelled “Ar­maged­don” for a club pen­ni­less and rud­der­less since the ar­rest of for­mer owner Carson Ye­ung in 2011.

“And when the fi­nal whis­tle shrilled, the re­lief poured forth. With tears stream­ing down his face, the Blues boss tore down the touch­line, wres­tled his way past the stew­ards and flung him­self at the 3,800 trav­el­ling fans.

“The emo­tions... it was just mad­ness, ab­so­lute mad­ness,” said Clark, miss­ing his coat and still dry­ing his eyes. “I buy into the club and I felt for the sup­port­ers so much in the last few weeks. That was my sole ob­jec­tive; ev­ery­thing that went through my mind, day in day out, was to

do it for the fans. The sup­port­ers have taken the word sup­port to a new level.

“They’re real char­ac­ters, and people who sup­port us when things aren’t go­ing so well. My cel­e­bra­tion was to thank them. I just wish I could have run that quick when I was play­ing!”

Talk­ing of pace­less, Nikola Zigic has all the mo­bil­ity of a gi­ant red­wood, his lum­ber­ing fig­ure per­son­i­fy­ing the aw­ful sta­sis that has gripped the Blues dur­ing Ye­ung’s ill-fated reign.

But ev­ery dog, no mat­ter how over­paid, has his day. First came a tow­er­ing header from a Mitch Han­cox cross.Then, with sec­onds re­main­ing, the Ser­bian rose again, his header cleared off the line but bun­dled home by Paul Cad­dis.

Zigic is the sole, costly relic of Birm­ing­ham’s rel­e­ga­tion from the Pre­mier League and while it would be push­ing it to sug­gest he has re­paid his crip­pling £65,000 a week salary, the 33-year-old’s last match will at least go down as his finest.

“Zigic has been in­spired,” said Clark. “He’s grabbed the lads by the shirt tails and pushed them on.”

The chal­lenge now is to en­sure this glo­ri­ous day at the Ree­bok be­comes a spring­board rather than a stay of ex­e­cu­tion.

Though Ye­ung is gone, the prob­lems re­main. The un­will­ing­ness of own­ers BIHL to in­vest has forced Clark to con­duct his great es­cape with raw rook­ies and loa­nees. If a new buyer can­not be found – and so far there is none of the hori­zon – then a re­peat may be too big an ask.

“Ev­ery­one at the club needs to use this as a wake up call,” said Clark. “Whether that’s new in­vest­ment or new own­ers.This can­not hap­pen to this club. It’s too big and the sup­port is too good.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

WE’RE SAFE: Birm­ing­ham play­ers cel­e­brate in front of their trav­el­ling fans

KEY MO­MENT: Birm­ing­ham’s Paul Cad­dis heads in the equaliser. Above: Lee Clark cries on bench

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