Steve Bruce last night claimed that he deserves more respect than to be the victim of jeers by Birmingham City supporters as he was during the match against Stoke City.
The manager was in the process of making a double substitution on the hour yesterday when he was met by a chorus of "you don't know what you're doing" by a small but significant section of the crowd.
Birmingham won 1-0, rose to second position in the Coca-Cola Championship, but Bruce left St Andrew's with a bitter taste.
Only 15,854 people turned up to watch a drab yet important match that kicked off at 11.30am yesterday and lacked atmosphere. But it takes a lot for a Birmingham victory to be overshadowed by the negativity surrounding St Andrew's.
Bruce heard the abuse while he was replacing Stephen Clemence and Cameron Jerome with Sebastian Larsson and Rowen Vine. After the match, he remained composed but, with his words and his expression, it was easy to see how upset he was. "I make two substitutions and the crowd sing 'you don't know what you're doing'," Bruce said. "I think I deserve more respect than that.
"It was a frustrating day but we won 1-0 and although we haven't played very well we'll take it. But we've gone second in the league now with two games in hand and it's still not good enough.
"What I've witnessed and experienced has saddened me a little bit really, but there you go I'll just get on with it. We've got a lot of young lads out there and they need the help of the fans rather than booing and jeering, which is what we're starting to do."
Birmingham's victory, hard-earned but deserved, was secured when Gary McSheffrey headed home a superlative goal in the 71st minute after a cross by Nicklas Bendtner.
Under normal circumstances, Bruce would have purred at such a devastating goal but he was too preoccupied to emphasise the positive aspects of the occasion.
"Right from ten or 15 minutes in, we knew we weren't playing well and we were giving the ball away more than we should," Bruce said. "But the crowd was on their backs and that creates even more nervousness and edginess.
"If they support the team and get behind them I'm sure they'll see a better response than they witnessed. I make a plea to everybody that supports the club to get behind us.
"There's a deep frustration for whatever reason but lets go and give it our best shot because everybody else is.
"Stephen Clemence hasn't been 100 per cent fit all week but he's an honest player — as honest a professional as I have ever worked with — and he really wanted to play like he always does. I thought he was struggling a bit and I decided at that point to make a change.
"Then to get the reaction that I did . . . I think I deserve a bit more respect than that. At the moment it seems as if we're trying to shoot ourselves in the foot and it's very frustrating.
"I am paid well to try to manage the club. But I have to say I deserve more respect than to have people shouting 'you don't know what you're doing' when you make a substitution. What have I got to do? Hang up a board stating Clemence is nursing an injury."
To add to the feeling of disunity at St Andrew's, those Birmingham supporters who did not attend the match were reproached by David Sullivan, the club's co-owner, who questioned whether they deserved promotion.
Birmingham's descent towards an emotional crisis is surprising at a time when they are in the best position of all the 24 clubs in the Coca-Cola Championship. While they are in second position, they will go top if they win the two matches in hand that they have on Derby County.
Bruce cuts a frustrated figure. The decision of the directors to sell Matthew Upson to West Ham United on January 31 riled the manager and, until yesterday, results had been indifferent.
It concerns him that what should have been a momentous victory has been overshadowed by dissenting voices.
Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, was unhappy but for different reasons. Suspensions had robbed him off Lee Hendrie, on loan from Aston Villa, and of Salif Diao, formerly of Birmingham City.
"We came here depleted but I think we have given it a right go," Pulis said. "I'm pleased with the effort of the players and very proud of them, but we should have got something from the game.
"I keep saying this every week, but overall we have done well defending, we just need to get someone to score the goals. We have created good chances again, we just haven't taken them and that's frustrating.
"We are desperately disappointed to get beaten because it is a soft goal to concede but they had only a couple of chances all game. We badly missed Hendrie and Diao. That little bit of quality in our side was missing."
* Were the jeers fair? Shouldn't Blues fans be backing a side sitting in second place with games in hand? Tell us your thoughts at the messageboard.