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BLUES ARE FEELING IN SORRY NIK; Zigic red card adds to gloom.

Byline: From Colin Tattum at The Reebok Stadium

BLUES fell to defeat to bring the curtain down on a rollercoaster 2012.

An encouraging start counted for nothing as two Bolton goals inside six first-half minutes changed the whole pattern of the match.

Blues had taken an 11th-minute lead via Nikola Zigic and looked good value.

But then they were undone and just before the end Zigic was sent off for ridiculously picking up two yellow cards in the space of 60 seconds.

He was first booked for stopping goalkeeper Adam Bogdan clearing his lines, in the 86th minute.

And then, in the next passage of play, he clashed with Tim Ream and referee Simon Hooper judged that he had barged the defender after the ball had gone.

It was a sorry end to a disappointing performance by Blues, who now head into what could be a very troublesome New Year.

Depressed Peter Pannu's stark warnings about player sales to stave off administration and the lack of a takeover any time soon has left a cloud hanging over St Andrew's, and depressed supporters.

And with Lee Clark juggling resources due to a lengthy injury list and now having his only fit senior striker, Zigic, suspended for two games, the news is not getting any brighter.

It was fairly typical of Blues this season that all their decent work was undone in quickfire succession. They started the game well and took an early lead.

Chris Burke sent over a curling cross from the right to the far post and Zigic, launching himself at full stretch, headed it into the top corner.

No-one was stopping the big Serb from getting to the ball, not the goalkeeper nor Zat Knight, who got a bang to the head for his troubles.

So it all seemed set fair for Blues. Playing a 4-2-3-1 with Hayden Mullins and the fit-again Jonathan Spector in the sitting roles, they were comfortable.

Organised and watchful, they had the measure of Bolton, who began to become edgy in front of the restless Reebok Stadium fans.

But everything changed in the 27th minute when Bolton got an equaliser from nowhere.

Marcos Alonso got across the Blues' defensive line sharply to meet a rightwing centre from Tyrone Mears. And his firm header flashed past the despairing dive of Jack Butland to make it 1-1. It was a hammer blow for Blues and provided Bolton with renewed vigour.

And it got worse when, in the 33rd minute, Chung-Yong Lee impressively put Bolton ahead with a fine solo goal.

Kevin Davies laid the ball through down the inside-left channel and Lee accelerated beyond Steven Caldwell, who almost nipped it off his toes with a tackle after having to sprint across.

But Lee stayed on his feet, veered wide of Butland's dive and stuck the ball away clinically from a very tight angle near the byline.

All of a sudden, the game had been turned on its head and Blues were left up against it. Not even their first goal in the opening 15 minutes of a game this season provided a platform.

Confidence surged through the Bolton ranks and Butland had to turn away a fierce shot from the left from Kevin Davies, who cut inside, as the home team exerted more pressure.

Blues had lost the thread of things and it required one of their secondhalf recoveries to get back in it.

But for 15 minutes nothing was happening for them and Bolton were the team in control and comfortable.

Wade Elliott came on for Spector and Blues moved Robert Hall up front to provide support for Zigic in a 4-4-2, but Blues mustered little attacking punch.

It took until the 69th minute for them to have a real shot in anger at Bolton's goal in the second period, Hall's low, long-range effort carrying sting but not beating Bogdan at the near post.

Bolton weren't exactly great after the break, they had pot-shots at Butland's goal, but they had enough about them to ensure they returned to winning ways after two straight defeats.

With 11 minutes to go any hopes of a Blues salvage job were extinguished when Bolton scored from the penalty spot.

Caldwell jumped among a crowd of bodies to get his head on a deep freekick and the ball rebounded off his raised arms.

It was hardly the most deliberate of offences but referee Hooper pointed to the spot.

Keith Andrews stepped up and calmly hoisted the ball high to the right, giving Butland no chance, and Blues' fate was sealed, before Zigic's minute of madness.

BOLTON: Bogdan, Mears, Alonso, Ream, Knight, Spearing (Butterfield 89), Andrews, Pratley, Lee, Davies, Eagles (Afobe 90+4). Subs: Lonergan, Ricketts, Petrov, Sordell, Riley.

BLUES: Butland, Robinson, Hancox, Caldwell, Davies, Burke (Redmond 72), Spector (Elliott 59), Mullins, Reilly (Jervis 79), Hall, Zigic. Subs: Doyle, Pablo, Gordon, Delfouneso. STAR MAN: Jack Butland.


CROSS PURPOSES: Chris Burke gets the ball into the Bolton box.

BLUE MURDER: Nikola Zigic trudges off after being shown the red card at The Reebok.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Dec 30, 2012
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