Football: Devlin undoes Blues: County cling on

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The Independent Online
Notts County . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Birmingham City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

SUDDENLY, Brummies are queueing up to do Birmingham down. After Saturday's FA Cup calamity against a Kidderminster side managed by a life-long Blues fan, Graham Allner, they were undone in last night's First Division fixture at Meadow Lane by Notts County's Paul Devlin, who lives close to St Andrews.

County were clinging

precariously to Devlin's 30th- minute goal - the striker's sixth in 13 games - when Gary McSwegan doubled the lead after a breakaway with five minutes left. But Gary Cooper instantly cut the deficit, and County had to endure several harrowing moments before Birmingham's eighth consecutive away defeat was confirmed.

Birmingham, who fielded three more of the 10 players Barry Fry has recruited at a cost of pounds 1.75m, thus remain only three points clear of the relegation zone. Yet there was much to encourage Fry, whose team were virtually camped in Steve Cherry's penalty area during the final 20 minutes.

In the first half, Birmingham occasionally resembled a collection of individuals who had never played together - which, to an extent, they were. However, they were unfortunate when Steve Claridge's first goal attempt since Fry paid Cambridge pounds 450,000 to make him the club's record signing hit a post in the 15th minute.

County's opening goal should be shown to would-be coaches as an example of how to build swiftly from the back. Cherry bowled the ball wide to Mark Draper, who chipped it forward to Andy Legg. His pass into the box was met by the on- rushing Devlin 12 yards out.

After the interval, Andy Saville sent one header wide, while Kenny Lowe, hailed by Fry as the Hoddle of non- League football in their days at Barnet, wasted one free-kick with a shot which suggested he meant Carl rather than Glenn.

Cherry then tipped Ted McMinn's 20-yard volley on to and over the bar. When McSwegan, also on as substitute, beat Ian Bennett from similar range, Birmingham's cause looked lost.

Cooper revived it following a tired clearance by Colin Foster - otherwise a tower of strength on his loan debut from West Ham - and there was still time for Cherry to save acrobatically from Saville before the final whistle signalled an outpouring of home relief.

Notts County (4-4-2): Cherry; Sherlock,

Foster, Johnson, Dyjkstra; Matthews (McSwegan, 72), Draper, Simpson, Legg; Devlin, Lund. Substitutes not used:

Murphy, Catlin (gk).

Birmingham City (4-3-3); Bennett; Hiley (Parris, 45), Whyte, Daish, Dryden; Lowe, Cooper, Harding (McMinn, 45); Claridge, Saville, McGavin. Substitute not used: Miller (gk).

Referee: J Kirkby (Sheffield).