AS IF it were not galling enough to lose a first home game in five months and seeing automatic promotion become a diminishing dream, Birmingham City were yesterday undone by two Aston Villa old boys whose careers were launched across the city by Graham Taylor.
Injury-blighted Tony Daley, who during his time at Villa Park won seven England caps under Taylor, has played most of this season without a contract, only recently earning a deal until the end of this season. How the 31- year-old winger repaid his mentor's faith yesterday as he set up Tommy Mooney's first- half header and was then on hand to nod home Mooney's centre.
Other results left Birmingham, who had suffered only one defeat in 17 league games, 10 points behind second-placed Ipswich and Watford, four points behind the play-off zone for which Trevor Francis's side will surely now have to settle.
David Holdsworth, on his home debut following his pounds 1.2m signing from Sheffield United, headed in a late reply but Birmingham were again disappointing. With Bolton, due at Vicarage Road this Saturday, on the wane among the top six, Watford are timing their rise neatly.
Daley, who started at Villa under Graham Turner before flourishing under Watford's current manager, had been given the opportunity to revive his career when Taylor swopped England for Wolves. But, following his pounds 1.25m transfer from Villa, he only started 16 league games in four years at Molineux and was released last summer, heading for a trial with Watford.
Taylor pulled off a masterstroke at St Andrew's, recalling Daley for only his sixth league start of the season, and Mooney, who has played most of his games in defence, into a three-man forward line. After 26 minutes, with Birmingham fans booing his every touch, Daley produced a clever step-over to wrong-foot his marker before unleashing a far-post centre to which Mooney beat goalkeeper Kevin Poole to head in.
Martin Grainger had seen a 35-yard left-footer tipped over by Alec Chamberlain but the Watford goalkeeper was largely untroubled. Then in the 58th minute Mooney, who spent the first year of his professional career at Taylor's Villa, tricked his full-back to get to the line and cross for Daley to head in. The Birmingham supporters were less fulsome in their singing of "He's got a pineapple on his head" after that.
Francis was brave enough to substitute both his full-backs for attacking players but, with Dele Adebola and Paul Furlong out injured, there was little cutting edge up front. It is asking a great deal for on-loan signing Lee Bradbury to adjust immediately to the fervour and expectations at St Andrew's. When a breakthrough finally arrived, Holdsworth was practically on the line when heading in Howard Forinton's centre.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Poole; Bass (McCarthy, 61), Holdsworth, M Johnson, Charlton (Forster, 61); Hughes, Hyde, O'Connor, Grainger; Bradbury (Forinton, 69), Ndlovu.
Watford: (4-3-3): Chamberlain; Bazeley, Page, Palmer, Robinson; Hazan (Hyde, h-t), R Johnson, Kennedy; Daley (Bonnot, 78), Mooney, Smart. Substitute not used: Ngonge.
Referee: J Kirkby (Sheffield).