Luton Town manager Nathan Jones felt the Birmingham City fans’ tennis ball protest affected his side as they slipped to a 3-0 defeat at St Andrew’s on Saturday (12 February).
The game was halted briefly in the 14th minute when home supporters protesting against the club’s owners - Birmingham Sports Holdings Ltd (BSHL) - threw dozens of tennis balls on to the pitch.
Juninho Bacuna opened the scoring for Blues not long after play resumed with his first for the club before Lyle Taylor made it two with his third goal in four games and Onel Hernandez added a third.
“The tennis balls killed the momentum and then the steward stepped on to the pitch inexplicably (to try to clear the balls),” Jones said.
“I am very reluctant to not give Birmingham credit because they must have done something right, but we were really inept in our performance.
“We can’t affect the protest, but it did seem to kill our momentum.
“The second goal was disastrous, they just punted, it came off someone’s toe and it was a calamitous goal.
“We saved our two most inept performances for Birmingham.
“They didn’t had to work hard for anything, apart from the first 20 odd minute.”
Fans hold fourth protest
Saturday’s protest was the fourth in a row held against BSHL at St Andrew’s.
Fans say protests are being held to highlight their uncertainty over who owns the club, the state of their St Andrew’s ground - part of which has been closed for more than a year due to structural issues - and increasing financial losses have all been used to protest against the owners.
And with the club struggling in the bottom half of the Championship - fans say there has been a lack of information about what the owners intentions are for the club going forward.
Blues head coach Lee Bowyer felt Bacuna’s opener, rather than the protest, the fourth consecutive home game at which supporters have demonstrated, was the turning point in the match.
“We scored not long after (the protest), but it was the goal that changed the game,” he said.
Bowyer was full of praise for his three goal-scorers, all January signings, who helped Birmingham earn just their second win in 12 games.
“Bacuna – one chance, one goal, Taylor – a great finish, and, with Onel, we’ve got good players,” said Bowyer.
“We were keeping clean sheets earlier on in the season but, when we were creating chances, we weren’t taking them. Basically what we’ve brought in was what we were lacking.
“I worked with Lyle for two years (at Charlton) and he works his socks off, he fights for the ball to hold it up and, if he gets a chance, eight times out of 10 he will score.
“He’s got three in four games and today he provided an assist for Bacuna.
“Bacuna brings us something different in the middle of the park and receives the ball on the half turn and slides passes, so he’s got good vision.
“Onel has raw pace and wants to run with the ball and take us up the pitch.”
Blues board respond to fans
Birmingham City’s chairman Wenqing Zhao previously issued a statement to the club’s fans for the first time to address their concerns over how the club is being run.
In the letter, Zhao spoke about a number of issues which fans are currently unhappy about , including St Andrew’s and the board’s communication with supporters.
With some fans saying there is uncertainty over who owns and runs the club, Zhao said in the letter: “I would like to be clear that ultimate control of the club lies with our two majority shareholders, Mr Paul Suen and Mr Pech Vong.”
He has also said that the board and owners take responsibility for the growing discontent among the fans - you can read Mr Zhao’s letter in full, here.
The letter came after the club invited a selection of fans to meet board members on January 20 to address their concerns.
Blues issued a statement following the meeting and revealed that the owners have “no intention” to sell the club.
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