Football: Blues blow their own trumpet

Birmingham City 3 Crystal Palace 1
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The Independent Online
THE FRUSTRATIONS of countless seasons of unfulfillment persuaded Birmingham City's supporters to indulge themselves during yesterday's impressive victory at St Andrew's. "Top of the League," they sang lustily as their team overcame Crystal Palace to go to the head of the embryonic Nationwide First Division table.

The season may only be in its infancy and the rules governing goals scored still bizarre enough to bewilder Trevor Francis, but City's manager was not about to argue with his Blues' worthiness as leaders.

"But I still can't come to terms with why 3-1 should be better than 2- 0," he said.

If City had retained their 2-0 half-time lead, they would have merely finished the day as joint leaders with Wolves but, by reducing the arrears with a late header from Hayden Mullins, his first in senior football, Palace perversely helped Birmingham's cause, forcing them to go for a third goal.

Birmingham, who had conceded the final play-off spot to Sheffield United last season on the curious "goals scored" law, need have, on this convincing evidence, few fears about slide rule mathematics deciding their fate this time.

Dele Adebola, Birmingham's bustling Nigerian, maintained his goal-a-game record, stretching Palace's defence throughout and bringing justification for an arduous pre-season. "We worked him so hard you wouldn't believe it," said the manager. The pounds 1m Adebola had already threatened twice when he gave City a 12th-minute lead with a half-volley.

Then Marc Edworthy was pulled up for supposedly pulling Simon Charlton's shirt. The award of a penalty, swept home by Martin O'Connor, once a Palace reserve, annoyed Terry Venables. "If penalties are being given for shirt- pulling," argued the Palace manager, "then at least they should have been consistent and given us one when Bruce Dyer had his shirt pulled."

With the help of Adebola's high-stepping runs, Peter Ndlovu's spectacular dashes and Charlton's astute sorties, City were always dangerous on the break. However, the hosts' smug look of complacency vanished when Ian Bennett rushed madly from his goal, colliding with his own defender Michael Johnson to permit Mullins a decisive connection with Dean Austin's routine cross.

Palace were suddenly chasing a point. Bennett redeemed himself by clawing down a Matt Jansen drive before the Birmingham substitute Nicky Forster turned in Martin Grainger's cross to leave the division with an unfamiliar early look about it.

Goals: Adebola (12) 1-0; O'Connor pen (29) 2-0; Mullins (73) 2-1; Forster (90) 3-1.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Gill Ablett, Johnson, Charlton; McCarthy (Purse, 90); O'Connor, Marsden, Hughes (Grainger, 67); Adebola, Ndlovu (Forster, 88).

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Miller; Smith, Linighan, Warhurst, Hreidarsson; Edworthy, Mullins, Curcic (Austin 62), Lombardo; Dyer (Bent, 61), Jansen. Substitute not used: Burton.

Referee: K M Lynch (Kirk Hammerton).

Bookings: Birmingham: Johnson. Palace: Mullins.

Man of the match: Charlton.

Attendance: 16,699.