Football: Blues hit the right note

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The Independent Online
Birmingham City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Notts County. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

A SPECTACULAR volleyed goal by Louie Donowa, similar to the one scored by Crystal Palace's Gareth Southgate on the BBC's Match of the Day, enabled both Birmingham City and Central TV to open their First Division programme on a positive note yesterday.

Notts County, two divisions higher than Birmingham in May, can be excused for not sharing in the back-slapping. Otherwise, the only people disappointed were those who control the purse-strings at St Andrews. The attendance, at 10,600, was 1,800 down on the average last season, when Terry Cooper's side won promotion from the old Third Division.

Sky's live counter-attraction may have deterred some spectators, while County brought barely 1,000 fans. ITV's much-hyped new pundits' partnership of Snozz (John Sillett) and Greavsie might even have kept a few faint-hearts away, though the FA's insistence on a 100 per cent membership scheme at Birmingham following last season's crowd trouble against Stoke was arguably the major factor.

Much interest centred on how Blues' own odd couple, the 6ft 5in Mark Sale and his side-kick of a foot smaller, Simon Sturridge, would fair against the pounds 2.5m-rated central defender Craig Short. While Sale did not have the mobility to trouble Short, Sturridge's deft touch and ability to link with midfield paradoxically posed a bigger problem. County, whose direct approach contrasted with Birmingham's patient build-up, gave Cooper's new keeper, Andy Gosney, an uncomfortable introduction.

Donowa's goal, in the ninth minute, soon deflated them. John Frain's corner was headed out by a defender, only as far as the winger, whose right-foot shot from 20 yards took a deflection before hitting the net. Birmingham almost doubled their lead when David Rennie beat Steve Cherry to a Frain free-kick in the 29th minute. The header had insufficient power, and Charlie Palmer hacked the ball clear.

Rob Matthews, the former Loughborough student preferred to Northern Ireland's Kevin Wilson, gave the home defence problems with his strong running. He eluded Darren Rogers five minutes before the interval, but the newcomer from West Bromwich did well to rob him in the act of shooting.

County had the better of a humdrum second half. Matthews's 49th-minute header came out off the underside of the bar, and Short rose unmarked to head over with three minutes left. However, Ian Rodgerson shook their woodwork in the final minute, sending Blues' followers away contented in the knowledge that Aston Villa alone among the six West Midlands clubs failed to open with a victory.

Birmingham City: Gosney; Clarkson, Frain, Rennie, Rogers, Mardon, Donowa, Tait, Sale, Gleghorn, Sturridge (Rodgerson, 84). Substitute not used: Peer.

Notts County: Cherry; Palmer, Thomas, Craig Short, Johnson, O'Riordan, Draper (Harding, 61), Williams, Agana, Matthews (Wilson, 79), Smith.

Referee: A W Ward (London).