Charlery is Blues' darling after double

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The Independent Online
SIMON O'HAGAN

Tranmere Rovers 1 Birmingham City 3 (aet; score at 90 min 1-1)

When it comes to digging out talent, Barry Fry, the Birmingham City manager, remains one of the game's great scavengers. His side's extra- time victory in a pulsating Coca-Cola Cup third-round replay last night owed much to two contrasting but typically adventurous signings.

With the two goals that settled matters after John Aldridge had brought Tranmere Rovers dramatically back into the match with an equaliser in injury time at the end of 90 minutes, Ken Charlery, coming on as a substitute, showed what a good gamble he was when Fry bought him from Peterborough for pounds 400,000 in the summer.

Exploiting the tiredness in the Tranmere defence, Charlery perhaps benefited from the state they had been left in by the man he replaced, the Norwegian international Sigurd Rushfeldt, who was starting only his second match since joining the club on loan for three months from Tromso.

After a first half in which Ian Moore, Tranmere's 19-year-old striker, had devastated Birmingham with his pace but wasted two excellent openings, the gangling Rushfeldt headed his side into a 47th-minute lead from a cross by Michael Johnson. Tranmere should have been warned. For all the territorial advantage they had enjoyed, the best chance up to that point had fallen to Rushfeldt after their goalkeeper Danny Coyne misjudged a cross. But Tony Thomas half-blocked Rushfeldt's jabbed effort and the ball crept round the post for a corner.

Once they were chasing the game, Tranmere lost some shape but not their resolve. So you had to hand it to them when, with seconds of normal time remaining, Aldridge poked the ball home from Moore's knock-down.

With two shots against the woodwork and glaring misses by Pat Nevin and Aldridge, Tranmere will feel they should have won the game in extra time. But the greater edge Birmingham had to their game was demonstrated when Charlery converted Steve Claridge's cross with a swing of his left foot in the 96th minute, and then, with four minutes left, headed in from a cross by Ricky Otto.

Tranmere Rovers (4-3-3): Coyne; Thomas, McGreal, Teale, Stevens; Brannan, Jones, Nevin; G Bennett (Branch, 75), Aldridge, Moore. Substitutes not used: Nixon (gk), Garnett.

Birmingham City (4-3-3): I Bennett; Poole, Edwards, Daish, Johnson; Tait, Ward, Castle (Finnan, 90); Hunt (Otto, 90), Rushfeldt (Charlery, 69), Claridge.

Referee: K Lynch (Knaresborough).

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