Football: All eyes on Adebola

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The Independent Online
Watford 1 Birmingham City 1

MICK HARFORD sat in the directors' box with a notebook in his hand at Vicarage Road on Saturday and watched the current occupant of Birmingham's No9 shirt give a performance of which he might have been proud himself during his halcyon years as a terroriser of defences.

Dele Adebola, a muscular and mobile Nigerian-born centre-forward, signed for pounds 1m from Crewe Alexandra in February this year, may not have shone with Premiership polish, but he scored, ran and threatened with enough intent to leave most astute observers impressed. Harford, scouting for Wimbledon, will have scribbled it down with glee.

More than that, Adebola had something about him which suggested he could fit into the Wimbledon style rather better than Paul Furlong who made a competent comeback in Trevor Francis's team after a 15-match absence: an amazing physical presence under perfect control.

Furlong, back at one of his former clubs, was rumoured to be the real Wimbledon target, but at 30 to Adebola's 23, he would be a less sound investment even though his smart running and eye for an opening remain sound. It was his pass which gave Adebola the chance for an angled run past trailing defenders to open the scoring, with a drilled left-foot shot from 20 yards, after 22 minutes. Furlong deserved the ovation Watford's fans gave their former favourite when he came off.

Watford levelled through an own goal by the luckless Gary Rowett with 21 minutes remaining after a half-time rollicking from Graham Taylor who, cleverly, introduced the effective Darren Bazeley on the right flank for the invisible Nick Wright. In the end, Taylor was lamenting the loss of a victory after a first-half pasting from the visitors.

"We were very tame in the first half," said the former England manager. "My players have to believe they are good enough for this division but in the first half they looked as if they were not sure of that."

Francis, predictably, has made it clear that he intends to retain both of his strikers as he builds a team to march towards the Premiership. He praised Adebola's fifth strike of the season as "a magnificent goal to watch" and, fairly, praised Watford for their second-half comeback too. But, by then, Harford was gone and it is obvious Birmingham will need promotion this season to resist the bids for their latest big No 9.

Goals: Adebola (22) 0-1; Rowett og (69) 1-1.

Watford (5-2-3): Chamberlain; Gibbs, Page, Millen, Mooney, Kennedy; Hyde, Smart; Noel-Williams, Johnson, Wright (Bazeley, 45). Substitutes not used: Palmer, Hazan.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Poole; Rowett, Purse, Johnson, Grainger; Robinson, Marsden (Bass, 88), O'Connor, Charlton (Ndlovu, 79); Furlong (Forster, 86), Adebola.

Referee: A. Butler (Sutton-in-Ashfield).

Bookings: Watford Millen; Birmingham: Adebola, Robinson, O'Connor.

Attendance: 10,096.

Man of the match: Adebola.