Football: Hughes eclipsed

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The Independent Online
West Bromwich Albion 1

Carbon 80

Birmingham City 3

Ndlovu 5, 34, Adebola 12

Attendance: 19,472

IT was the kind of build-up to guarantee Lee Hughes an afternoon of total anonymity. All week the talk had been of the 22-year-old former Kidderminster Harrier who has been the sensation of the Nationwide League, especially when his manager Denis Smith reacted to a midweek hat-trick - which raised Hughes' goals tally to 18 in as many games - by slapping on a pounds 10m price tag. It was no surprise, therefore, when he was completely overshadowed as Birmingham won this derby in a canter.

So well-marshalled was the Birmingham defence that the young tyro hardly got a look-in - his contribution was limited to one first-half shot and a free header in the second period directed straight at the Birmingham goalkeeper. You could not blame him, though - Albion were simply awful, making a red-faced mockery of Smith's claim that they are worthy of a top-six position.

Hughes' thunder was stolen by Peter Ndlovu. What had begun as a bad week for the Zimbabwean international ended splendidly with his seventh and eighth goals of the season. Ndlovu was sent off against Huddersfield last weekend, branded a diver by referee Rob Styles. The accusation deeply upset the player, but after five days in which Birmingham's owner, David Sullivan, threatened legal action against the Football League, the official changed his mind.

Ndlovu expressed his relief at the Hawthorns by cashing in on two of the three moments of abject defending that cost Albion the game, first leaping between Shaun Murphy and Andy McDermott to head his side into a fifth- minute lead from Jon McCarthy's cross, then collecting Mario Bortolazzi's giveaway before cutting inside Murphy and jinking past Matt Carbon to fire his second 11 minutes before the interval.

In between, Dele Adebola had taken advantage of a horrible missed clearance by McDermott to increase the visitors' lead to 2-0 after 12 minutes.

Albion almost gave themselves hope before half-time when a Bortolazzi free-kick forced Birmingham keeper Kevin Poole to make a finger-tip save, but it was not until 10 minutes from time that small consolation came from a near-post header from Carbon.

Trevor Francis, Birmingham's manager, said: "I've spent the week talking about Lee Hughes, but I always thought that, if we could keep him quiet, it would be my strikers who would make the headlines."

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