Kevin Phillips's maturity helps Birmingham see off Bolton

Kevin Phillips's maturity helps Birmingham see off BoltonAge, Tom Stoppard suggested, is a high price to pay for maturity, but Kevin Phillips is clearly still at the stage where the benefits of the latter can make up for the physical disadvantages of the former.

The Birmingham City striker will be 38 in July, but as his manager, Alex McLeish, acknowledged, he gave his side everything that might have been expected of a player 10 years younger, after scoring a goal in which 20 years of penalty-area experience played a huge part.

That it should have been Phillips's first Premier League start of a season when his club had scored just 14 times in their previous 17 league games seemed frankly ridiculous and in fairness McLeish went some way towards admitting he had been wrong in not selecting him previously.

"Maybe I can look back and say could I have used him more in the first half of the season and maybe I could have," said the Scot. "He's just a genius in the box. I've said since the start of the season that in terms of technique he's the top forward at the club, you just wonder about the legs. But he showed today it wasn't a problem, he scored the goal, he brought people into play, he held the ball up, and despite not being the biggest guy, he's worked the centre-halves, they never got free headers. What can I say? He's looked fantastic over the past few weeks and deserved to be involved, and for the next game, well, I'd have to consider him for every game on that form."

Having undoubtedly made a point, Phillips insisted he had not intended to do anything of the sort. "It's not a message, don't go putting that in headlines. At the end of the day it's personal: I want to play and I showed I can still play in the Premier League. I may not run the channels as much as I used to do but I'd like to think I cause other problems."

Being in the right position and in enough space to control Sebastian Larsson's firmly hit fourth-minute corner and shoot with sufficient power to beat Jussi Jaaskelainen ensured Phillips gave Birmingham the start they desperately needed, but Blues had two heroes on Saturday – the other being their goalkeeper, Ben Foster.

Craig Gardner extended their lead with a shot that went in off Jaaskelainen's far post shortly before the hour, while Foster made a series of outstanding saves, including three in the first half from Danny Sturridge and one in added time from Gretar Steinsson, to prevent Bolton leaving with a point after Johan Elmander's brilliant volley offered the Trotters a lifeline.

Having spent the previous season working with Joe Hart, when the Manchester City goalkeeper was on loan at St Andrew's, McLeish and Phillips suggested Foster is every inch a genuine competitor for the England No1 shirt. "Alex must be very pleased with his goalkeeper," said the Bolton manager, Owen Coyle. "We've done marvellously this season, and we're determined not to let it drift now."

Powered by article was written by Richard Rae at St Andrew's, for The Guardian on Monday 4th April 2011 07.01 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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