Football: Francis' lament

Birmingham City 1 Ndlovu 53 Huddersfield Town 1 Stewart 61 Att endance: 19,170
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The Independent Online
THE BIRMINGHAM manager, Trevor Francis, felt that referee Robert Styles produced a Hallowe'en Day horror show. "He gave some of the worst decisions I've seen in 30 years in the game," said Francis who, after a distinguished playing career that took him around the globe with Nottingham Forest and England, has plenty of experience to draw on.

However, Francis realised he might be in for an anxious afternoon as soon as the game kicked off. Or rather when it didn't. Huddersfield began the game but Styles ordered a restart as Wayne Allison, out on the wing, had encroached over the halfway line.

Francis had told his players before the game that the referee would probably allow for the conditions, which were treacherous, but Styles' first actions hinted that might not be the case.

The referee certainly made his mark on the game early on, handing out four bookings before the break. There was no real hint of the furore about to erupt when Peter Ndlovu gave Birmingham the lead after 53 minutes. Jon McCarthy found himself in space on the right-hand byline and chipped to the far post for Ndlovu to head home.

That was the Zimbabwean's last contribution to the game as seven minutes later he was off the pitch. He was dribbling across the penalty area and fell under a heavy challenge by Kevin Gray but the referee shocked the home side and their supporters by producing a second yellow card for Ndlovu, both of them for diving. Francis said afterwards: "Ndlovu is one of the most genuine players in the game and now he is distraught. It is my duty to protect him after this. I will ask the referee to review his decision."

Within a minute of the red card, Huddersfield had equalised. A Nico Vaesen clearance was headed on into Birmingham's penalty area, Marcus Stewart latched onto the ball and slotted the equaliser home from 12 yards.

But the referee's decisions continued to have a bearing on the game. After almost half an hour of failing to capitalise on their advantage, Huddersfield conceded a free-kick with two minutes left and Simon Charlton swung in a vicious ball that saw Darren Purse send in a header that was dropping under the bar before Vaesen tipped it over. Styles, to add to everyone's confusion, awarded a goal-kick to the visiting side.

After Purse's near miss, Birmingham still found the time to go close two minutes into injury time when the substitute Steve Robinson volleyed wide from only six yards, again after being set up by McCarthy from the right-wing.

Francis refused to gloat afterwards about the fact that the point earned had sent his team top of the First Division, preferring instead to dwell on Styles' decisions, producing the final lament: "There are some people who have been making it difficult for us to win in recent weeks, and they've been wearing black."