Bruce senses safety at last
Wigan Athletic 2 Birmingham City 0
Short of pulling on a No 4 shirt and scoring the two goals himself, it could hardly have been a more satisfying Saturday afternoon for Steve Bruce.
Fifteen years on from the April day when a dramatic late brace of Bruce headers against Sheffield Wednesday put Manchester United on course for their first title of the Alex Ferguson era, the Old Trafford old boy sat at pitch-side savouring a Ryan Taylor double that edged his Wigan team three points closer to safety. That the victory was achieved at the expense of the employers he left in less than harmonious circumstances in November merely heightened the sense of gratification.
It was a sorry indictment of Birmingham that their former manager had a more taxing time resisting the temptation to gloat in public afterwards than his new team had in overcoming their rivals. "When you play against your old club, of course you want to get the result," Bruce said. "They would have been no different. They would have wanted to turn me over big style, but thankfully our players didn't give them a chance. I thought we were first in every department.
"I wanted it for the club who employ me now. Five months ago, when I came through the door, we were nearly adrift with Derby. To be in the position we're in now, the players have responded magnificently. Of course it's sweet and all the rest of it. I just want enough points to repay the faith Mr Whelan showed in me by outlaying such a vast amount of money."
Saturday's result having pulled Wigan eight points clear of third-from-bottom Bolton, Dave Whelan's £3m outlay looks set to pay off. The money was not just compensation to Birmingham but also an investment of faith in Bruce, at a time when takeover moves were undermining his position at St Andrew's.
His old club had to settle for matters of consolation: that the gap on the scoreboard did not match the gulf in performance; that Aston Villa's victory against Bolton maintained Birmingham's four-point cushion; and that Martin Taylor was rehabilitated into first-team action, six weeks after his fateful challenge on Arsenal's Eduardo da Silva.
Not that Taylor enjoyed the best of afternoons – Martin Taylor, that is, the giant central defender having conceded possession and then failed to stop Antonio Valencia breezing past him before squaring for Ryan Taylor to thump the opening goal past the goalkeeper, Maik Taylor. By the time Martin departed with a strained groin in the 72nd minute, Ryan had poked a second past Maik and City had 10 men.
Mike Dean, the referee who sent off Martin Taylor on his last appearance, had little option but to show a red card to Damien Johnson when the Birmingham captain raised both feet in a reckless challenge on Kevin Kilbane seven minutes before the interval.
Goals: R Taylor (15) 1-0; R Taylor (55) 2-0.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Boyce, Scharner, Kilbane; Valencia, Skoko (Figueroa, 90), Palacios, R Taylor (Sibierski, 85); Heskey (King, 88), Bent. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Hagen.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Martin Taylor (Parnaby, 72), Murphy; Larsson, Muamba, Johnson, McSheffrey (Nafti, 63); Forssell (Jerome, 67), Zarate. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), O'Connor.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Birmingham Jaidi, Murphy.
Sent off: Johnson (38).
Man of the match: Ryan Taylor.
Attendance: 17, 926.