Despite Birmingham City’s victory in the Midlands derby, Birmingham manager Steve Bruce stated that the result was overshadowed by incidents both on and off the pitch.
Violent clashes between fans before the game lead to increased tension inside the stadium as the occasion heightened the feeling of local rivalry.
Before a ball was kicked Bruce was struck by a coin, thrown from the crowd, but the Birmingham manager was eager to defuse the situation by saying: “I have got a hard head! It was one individual out of 40,000 people.”
Once the game had started the trouble continued between the two sets of fans with tensions at their rawest between opposing supporters in the Doug Ellis Stand. Not content with causing trouble on the terraces one fan took to the pitch and proceeded to confront Robbie Savage, in an incident was reminiscent of the corresponding fixture earlier in the season when a Birmingham City fan invaded the pitch to taunt Villa keeper Peter Enkelman.
Further invasions occurred towards the end of the game, as it became clear to Villa fans that their team had capitulated. Continued violence afterwards meant that police made 40 arrests on the night, andit seems likely that the FA will launch an investigation.
FA spokesman Adrian Bevington said: “Obviously we are taking what happened very seriously. Our crowd safety advisor will be talking to the police, and both clubs, to ascertain further details.”
On the pitch the action was fierce and competitive. Both sides had chances in the first half, most notably Christophe Dugarry, whose dipping effort was just turned over by Enkelman. Lee Hendrie came close for Villa firing just wide of the Birmingham post. However, the violence that threatened eventually materialised on the pitch just after half time as Dion Dublin was dismissed for a headbutt on Robbie Savage.
Taking advantage of their numerical superiority Birmingham scored twice in four minutes through Lazaridis and Horsfield, which managed to further incense the home crowd.
Minutes later Joey Gudjonsson was booked for a second time for a bruising two-footed lunge on Matthew Upson leaving Villa with nine men and no hope of levelling the match. To conclude an eventful night of football, Geoff Horsfield played out the final moments in goal, as Birmingham keeper Nico Vaesen sustained a long-term injury.
After the game Steve Bruce was disappointed that such scenes had marred his club’s victory and the acquisition of what may prove to be a vital three points.
Villa manager Graham Taylor preferred to keep his opinions internal and said only: “All the talking I’ve got to do is going to be in the dressing room.”