Football: Fry takes shelter from storm

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The Independent Online
Southend United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Jones 41, Hunt 66, Lee 75

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

Peschisolido 88

Attendance: 10,729

BARRY FRY'S return to Roots Hall yesterday was an unhappy, occasionally ugly affair for the dapper, wisecracking Birmingham City manager.

Ordered by the Essex constabulary not to stir from the visitors' dug-out during the First Division match, for fear of aggravating the supporters he left behind so acrimoniously last month, Fry was forced to sit through an afternoon of abuse and defeat at Southend's hands. 'The police told me that if I went on to the touchline (a familiar Fry habit) I could be charged with inciting a riot,' he said.

When Fry first took up his low-key station on the bench, his every move was jeered as Essex Man ran through his armoury of obscenities. 'Are you Mr Blobby in disguise?' and 'Judas' were the politest among an unbroken torrent of terrace taunts.

'I didn't know I was so popular here,' Fry smiled afterwards before conceding he had not enjoyed one second - a rare occurrence for such a limelight lover. 'I must have had 10,000 friends out there. I wasn't looking forward to coming back. I have had terrible mail and threats. But I expected the fans' reaction. But I want them to know I didn't walk out on Southend. I honoured my contract to the full. In eight months I turned this club around and left them with a very good team.'

Too good for his present team. Fry's former charges responded to the urgent pleas of their supporters and humiliated Birmingham with a series of first-class attacking moves, invariably emanating from the exceptional wing play of Ricky Otto.

The former Orient player, whose career was going nowhere until Fry took him to Roots Hall last year, dominated a game which swung Southend's way after 20 minutes when Andy Saville, the Birmingham striker, was dismissed for elbowing Graham Bressington. Despite the presence of a poleaxed player at his feet, Saville looked bemused when Paul Danson, the Leicester referee summoned him over. 'We want red,' bayed the majority of Southend's season's-best crowd of 10,729 - a desire Danson duly accommodated. Moments later Danson coolly reined in a match that was threatening to run out of control by lecturing both captains at length following a minor melee.

Reduced to 10 men, Birmingham had no answer to a fluid Southend side, who were a credit to their new manager, Peter Taylor. Ian Bennett's goalmouth was soon under siege and the breakthrough materialised just before half- time. Jason Lee redirected Otto's long ball to Keith Jones, whose 15-yard finish was emphatic.

Bennett performed heroics but was still beaten twice more in the second half. Jonathan Hunt doubled Southend's lead on the hour with a firm shot which he scarcely saw and the celebrations continued to crescendo when Lee's header eluded Bennett's dive to complete Birmingham's misery. Even Paul Peschisolido's bizarre late consolation, after Paul Sansome had kicked the ball straight at him, failed to ease the woes of Fry, who was fiercely critical of his team after poignantly shaking the hands of every Southend player. 'Birmingham has enormous potential - that was why I left - but on the playing side it looks like it will take 30 years to sort out. If I could take Southend's team to Birmingham, we'd get 45,000 every week and definitely go up.'