MX23RW : Saturday, September 25 07:03:12| >> :120:85498:85498:
May 3, 2014 at 12.15pm UK at Reebok Stadium
BoltonBolton Wanderers
2-2
BirminghamBirmingham City
Lee (57'), Jutkiewicz (76')
FT(HT: 0-0)
Zigic (78'), Caddis (90')

Preview: Bolton Wanderers vs. Birmingham City

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Championship clash between Bolton and relegation-threatened Birmingham at the Reebok Stadium.

Things are looking increasingly grim for Birmingham City, and Saturday's trip to face Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium is the last-chance saloon for things to improve for the Midlands outfit.

Having boasted the advantage of superior goal difference and a game in hand over their relegation rivals for the last few weeks, both of those factors could prove to be irrelevant on the final day of the Championship season this weekend.

While those around them have been picking up the odd points here and there, Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic in that game in hand saw Lee Clark's side slump to their fifth straight defeat.

As a result, they go into this weekend in the final relegation spot still up for grabs, one point from safety and knowing that another defeat would consign them to League One football alongside Barnsley and Yeovil Town next season.

However, Birmingham do have a glimmer of hope in the form of that goal difference, which is unassailably better than the three other sides still in danger of the drop.

Indeed, a draw would be enough for them to escape should Doncaster Rovers lose away to Leicester City, while victory would mean that both Rovers and Millwall would have to win, while Blackpool would need a draw.

While their fate is effectively out of their own hands, any sort of positive result would be a huge boost to Birmingham's survival chances and it would take a number of shocks for them to still be relegated with a win on Saturday.

Picking up three points is by no means a foregone conclusion for City, however. In addition to their five consecutive defeats they are yet to win against a team outside the bottom seven this year.

It is their away form that has allowed them to reach this stage still in with a chance of avoiding the drop having picked up 29 points on the road - 15 more than they have managed at St Andrew's this season.

However, they have lost their last two on their travels and only beaten the teams immediately around them in the table since the turn of the year.

Clark will be without Tom Thorpe, Neal Eardley and Matthew Green for their must-not-lose clash, but he could bring Nikola Zigic into the starting lineup after he made an impact off the bench against Wigan.

It wasn't too long ago that Bolton looked like being involved in a relegation scrap of their own, but a fine run of form over the last two months has seen them safe for some time.

They are now 15 points clear of the bottom three and just three off the top half, although their poor goal difference compared to 12th-placed Middlesbrough means that avoiding a bottom-half finish is highly unlikely.

Still, Dougie Freedman will be delighted with how his team have performed of late, with last Saturday's 3-1 victory away to Sheffield Wednesday making it just two defeats in their last 15 outings.

Even more impressively, they have won more than half of those 15 matches, raising optimism that they could push for the playoffs next season depending on their summer activity.

Only the league's top two and playoff-chasing Brighton & Hove Albion have beaten Bolton at the Reebok in the league since the start of December, while they have also managed four wins from their last seven home games.

Long-term absentees Stuart Holden and Marc Tierney remain sidelined for the final game of the season, while Chris Eagles will also miss out ahead of his inevitable departure in the summer.

Recent form

Bolton: WWWDLW

Birmingham: WLLLLL

Possible starting lineups

Bolton: Bogdan; Knight, Mills, Wheater, Ream; Spearing, Trotter; Jutkiewicz, Lee, Danns; Beckford

Birmingham: Randolph; Caddis, Mullins, Spector, Hancox; Adeyemi, Huws; Burke, Macheda, Novak; Zigic

Sports Mole says: 1-1


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Stuart Gray manager of Sheffield Wednesday looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United at Hillsborough Stadium on January 11, 2014
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