Birmingham beat their injury crisis

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The Independent Online

Watford, FA Cup runners-up 15 years ago, suffered an inglorious exit at Vicarage Road yesterday, beaten by a second-half goal from Birmingham's central defender Gary Rowett, a £1m signing from Derby last season.

Watford, FA Cup runners-up 15 years ago, suffered an inglorious exit at Vicarage Road yesterday, beaten by a second-half goal from Birmingham's central defender Gary Rowett, a £1m signing from Derby last season.

So Watford have now gone 12 matches without a win, and their dwindling crowds will find it tough to follow manager Graham Taylor's urgent advice in the programme: "Keep smiling, keep believing and never, never give in."

So beset by injuries are Birmingham that manager Trevor Francis, has only 14 of his 31 professionals fit enough to be called on. If the situation was not so desperate it would be laughable because of the incidents involving players such as John Beresford, who went to Birmingham on loan from Southampton and the next day fell down the stairs at home and has been out ever since.

Even so, Birmingham looked much the more workmanlike bunch early on. After five minutes the visitors won a corner on the right and Martin Grainger's inswinging kick was firmly met by Rowett with a header which skidded off the top of the crossbar. As Watford struggled to come to terms with the team they edged out of the First Division play-offs last May to win a place in the Premiership, Richard Johnson was booked after 10 minutes for bringing down Graham Hyde, and five minutes later the home team suffered a blow with the loss of Nordin Wooter. The Dutch player was hurt in a tackle by Hughes and despite lengthy treatment on and off the field was unable to continue, being replaced by the Icelander Johan Gudmundsson.

Unable to create anything like a threat by their own skills, Watford were offered a chance when referee Paul Durkin awarded them a free-kick 22 yards out for a foul on Michel Ngongo,but Charlie Miller drove the ball wastefully into the wall. Johnson and Ngongo were both well wide with speculative shots and it was Watford who came under pressure more regularly, with Alec Chamberlain needing to be alert to block Chris Holland's effort at the near post following good work from Grainger.

As Watford woefully failed to come to terms with the occasion, two more yellow cards were shown to their players, Paul Robinson and Robert Page, in quick succession and they were booed off at the interval.

Having presumably benefited from some brisk managerial advice in the dressing room, Watford resumed in livelier style. A Ngonge shot was deflected over the Birmingham bar, and from the corner Micah Hyde got in a long, low drive, bringing Kevin Poole to his first save of the match.

Next Paul Robinson struck a fierce left-footer narrowly wide before Nick Wright, back in the Watford side after a six-match absence following a hernia operation, executed a neat one-two with Neil Cox to unleash a tremendous shot which was brilliantly turned aside by Poole.

As Watford kept up the pressure Robinson curled a tricky effort into the side-netting but after 66 minutes, totally against the second-half run of play, Birmingham went in front. They won a corner on the right and the combination which had struck the bar earlier on did better this time, as Grainger's kick was headed home by the unmarked Rowett.

Watford brought on their 18- year-old striker Stephen Brooker in a bid to snatch at least a replay, but it was the first-half substitute Gudmundsson who was next to test Poole, the goalkeeper soaring acrobatically to turn the ball over the bar.

Nigel Gibbs came on for his 457th appearance in a Watford shirt as the fans began to stream away, but even the introduction of this wise old head could not deny victory to a Birmingham side who had done their job doggedly and well.

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