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Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Saturday, 5 April 2008 17:01 UK

Wigan 2-0 Birmingham

By David Ornstein

Ryan Taylor
Taylor had previously scored only three goals in two seasons

Ryan Taylor scored a goal in each half to hand Wigan a vital win in their bid for survival and leave Birmingham teetering above the relegation zone.

The 23-year-old lashed Antonio Valencia's cross past Maik Taylor as the hosts took a richly deserved lead.

Shortly before half-time Birmingham's Damien Johnson was sent off for a lunge on Kevin Kilbane, who recovered to hit a shot against the post moments later.

After the break Wigan's Taylor stabbed in from close range to seal the points.

The result sees Steve Bruce's men leapfrog Reading and break eight points clear of the drop zone.

Birmingham remain in deep trouble, however, and just four points separates them from third-bottom Bolton.

And with any more performances like this from their final five games, they could be heading for an immediate return to the Championship.

Despite their precarious position coming into the game, Wigan showed little sign of relegation jitters and their electric start left Birmingham looking shell-shocked.

Blues boss Alex McLeish had spoken about how determined Bruce would be to overcome his former club, who he was facing for the first time since his acrimonious departure in November.


And, while Bruce was for the most part a picture of calm on the touchline, there was an unmistakable sense of hunger among his players in the early stages and they were rewarded after 14 minutes.

Valencia, whose performances have flourished since his loan move from Villarreal was made permanent in January, raced clear on the right and crossed low for the on-rushing Ryan Taylor to thump first-time into Maik Taylor's bottom right-hand corner.

Wigan were enjoying great success down Birmingham's left, with Valencia the arch-instigator, and the Ecuadorian twice had shots scrambled clear as the hosts pushed hard to double their advantage.

It took the visitors 31 minutes to muster a attempt on goal - Gary McSheffrey curling a free-kick high and wide - and their woes were compounded when Johnson leapt in on Kilbane and received a straight red card.

Despite Kilbane's protests in favour of the Birmingham captain, Mike Dean, the referee, was left with little option at a time when English football is attempting to eradicate any such challenges.

The decision merely increased Wigan's momentum and Kilbane unleashed a rasping left-foot drive that flicked Sebastian Larsson before rebounding off Maik Taylor's left upright.

Steve Bruce
Bruce was facing Birmingham for the first time since leaving them

As half-time approached Mario Melchiot, a regular beneficiary of Birmingham's porous left side, cut the ball back for Marcus Bent to flash wide.

Although Mauro Zarate saw his sumptuous goal-bound strike finger-tipped to safety by Chris Kirkland in first-half stoppage-time, Wigan's superiority continued after the re-start.

The tone was set in the first minute as Emile Heskey latched on to Josip Skoko's lofted pass, held off the hapless Martin Taylor - who was making his first start after suspension - and drilled just wide.

The hosts were profiting from Birmingham's appalling display yet their own performance must not be underestimated and it came as no surprise when they doubled the lead.

Once again Valencia was afforded time and space to cross from the right, Bent flicked on, Paul Scharner knocked the ball back in from an acute angle and, after Maik Taylor produced a fine double save from Heskey and Ryan Taylor, the latter poked home his second of the afternoon.

Wigan attempted to reap further ignominy on their opponents and Skoko miscued over from Valencia's cute cross before volleying just wide on 86 minutes.

A third goal was not forthcoming but, regardless, Wigan's triumph was never in doubt.

Wigan manager Steve Bruce:
"We can't say that we're safe until it's mathematically safe. It's a step closer but we've got a nice easy one next week at Chelsea!

"Our first-half performance was arguably the best since I came to the club.

"The players were absolutely right up for the challenge and played some really good stuff on a difficult pitch, as you've seen."

Birmingham manager Alex McLeish:
"The lunge has been outlawed in the game. More and more referees are now showing a red card, regardless of contact or not.

"Damien, I don't think touched the guy. Kilbane got up very quickly.

"When you lunge and you bare your teeth, i.e. show the studs, it can be difficult for the referee not to give a red card."

Wigan: Kirkland, Melchiot, Scharner, Boyce, Kilbane, Valencia, Skoko (Figueroa 90), Palacios, Taylor (Sibierski 85), Bent, Heskey (King 88).
Subs Not Used: Pollitt, Hagen.

Goals: Taylor 15, 55.

Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Martin Taylor (Parnaby 72), Jaidi, Murphy, Larsson, Muamba, Johnson, McSheffrey (Nafti 63), Zarate, Forssell (Jerome 67).
Subs Not Used: Doyle, O'Connor.

Sent Off: Johnson (37).

Booked: Murphy, Jaidi.

Att: 17,926

Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).

BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Wigan's Taylor 7.83 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.

see also
Saturday's football photos
05 Apr 08 |  Football
How to watch Match of the Day
08 Oct 07 |  Match of the Day

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