Football: Bassett gives Francis vote of confidence

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The Independent Online
Jon Culley

Nottingham Forest 1 Birmingham City 0

After one win in 13 matches, even Trevor Francis is finding his seemingly fireproof reputation under threat.

The Birmingham fans who idolised him as a player want him to lead them to the Premiership as a manager. But this morning, 18 months into his three-year contract, City lie 14th in the First Division.

On the other hand, Francis does not lack for votes of confidence. Last week it was David Gold, the Birmingham chairman; now Dave Bassett, whom he regards as a good friend, is offering his support.

Francis and the Forest manager became close in Sheffield when one was at Hillsborough and the other at Bramall Lane. Their mutual admiration is undisguised.

Just as Francis says Forest will win automatic promotion to the Premiership, so Bassett insists Birmingham will not be relegated, despite their current downward trajectory. "At times they looked the better side," Bassett said, a little generously. "They deserved a draw really. It was a battle for us and we did not play as well as we can."

Compliments cannot be exchanged for points, however. Francis may dismiss criticism as merely media-generated but clearly something is wrong with his team and as yet he has no diagnosis. "I keep reviewing the videos of our games and wondering if I'm missing something," he said.

Bassett's view is that Gold and company may be missing their chance by failing to pitch high enough in the transfer market, even though Francis has spent more than pounds 10m.

"He proved his quality as a top-class manager in Sheffield," Bassett said. "But looking from outside you get the impression that when it comes to buying players he is only allowed to go so far. Birmingham, quite rightly, are seen as one of those clubs big enough to be in the Premiership. But there are maybe six or eight clubs like that and it needs something special to come out on top."

Table-topping Forest's special something is likely to be a three-man forward line collectively valued at more than pounds 10m on their own. Kevin Campbell and Pierre van Hooijdonk look too good not to score goals in their present company, while Steve Stone's return to fitness can only open up more possibilities for them.

This was not one of Stone's better games, according to his manager, although he bustled effectively through midfield and it was from his through pass that Campbell slid home the only goal. In fairness, the undervalued Scot Gemmill's contribution was just as influential.

Birmingham, who had a late reply chalked off for a foul, looked weakest where it mattered most. Paul Furlong, one of the costlier Francis buys at pounds 1.5m, made little headway and Paul Devlin was removed at half-time after missing two chances.

It says something, perhaps, for the scope of Birmingham's ambitions that Devlin's replacement was Tony Cottee, borrowed from Leicester and a player, by his own admission, looking for a last hurrah. Surely, Francis must be thinking, we can aim higher.

Goal: Campbell (16) 1-0.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Lyttle, Hjelde, Chettle, Rogers (Armstrong, 63); Stone, Cooper, Gemmill, Bart-Williams (Woan, 74); Campbell, Van Hooijdonk. Substitute not used: Moore.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Bass, Wassall, Ablett, Grainger (Johnson, 76); McCarthy, Robinson, Marsden, O'Connor (Hughes, 73); Devlin (Cottee h/t), Furlong.

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

Bookings: Forest: Campbell; Birmingham: Ablett, Grainger.

Man of the match: Gemmill.

Attendance: 19,610.