Birmingham City. . .1
AS A former cab driver, Barry Fry is used to looking over his shoulder, but he will not care to glance at the demons that will close in on him if Birmingham do not bounce straight back out of the Second Division this year.
The bookmakers have made the Midlands' sleeping giants a prohibitive 7-2 to win the division this year, but at Brisbane Road on Saturday there was further evidence that the visitors' slumber is more a coma than 40 winks.
Jack Walker's Blackburn have shown that money can buy success, but Birmingham's riches will need galvanising with more steel than this if they are to attain a higher station; the attitude will need to be more purposeful than that of Mark Ward, the Blues' pounds 200,000 signing from Everton and stand-in skipper, whose pre-match rallying call amounted to little more than a rubbishing of Orient's capabilities. By the end of 90 minutes it was the ever-hopeful band of travelling supporters who were suggesting that their side's performance belonged in the trash can.
Birmingham's soporific start ended the moment Darren Purse gave the O's a sixth-minute lead and Steve Claridge, who permanently appears to have the look and energy of someone emerging from a fell-walking weekend, equalised in splendid fashion. Then the visitors went back into hibernation and could have been caught out more than the one time Ian Bogie, the outstanding man on view, finished cleanly.
Strangely enough, considering the opposition, this told us little about Orient. Their test will come on the away trips which took them into barren territory last year. But if Paul Heald continues in such athletic form in goal and Bogie, who is as annoying for defences as a fly in a car on a long journey, keeps buzzing, a healthy position beckons.
But for the Birmingham manager, there are more lofty expectations. 'The most encouraging thing to come out of today's game is that there are 45 League games left,' Fry said. 'We've got to learn to compete. It's no use standing around because the shirt won't run about by itself.'
Day one might seem an unusual moment to be talking about dismissals, but Fry is aware of the pressure, as well as the potential, his job brings. And he was aware this display would not have brought great pleasure to the chairman David Sullivan, who had eschewed the peppermint green blazer he wears at the racecourse for more sober attire as he sat in the best seats next to Karren Brady, the managing director who wore a pair of sunglasses that would have been too outrageous even for Elton John. 'If David Sullivan wants to make a change at the top he will,' Fry said.
'Most of all I'm disappointed for the 4,500 travelling fans. The expectations are high and they all feel we'll walk it.' If better results do not come quickly it may be Fry himself who will do the walking, and he could find a plank under his feet.
Goals: Purse (6) 1-0; Claridge (17) 1-1; Bogie (66) 2-1.
Leyton Orient (4-4-2): Heald; Austin, Purse, Hendon, Warren; Dempsey, Lakin, Ryan (Cockerill, 56), Barnett (Gray, 71); West, Bogie. Substitute not used: Turner (gk).
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Dryden, Shearer, Whyte, Hiley; Donowa, Lowe, Ward (Dominguez, 66), Willis; Saville (Regis, 66), Claridge. Substitute not used: Price (gk).
Referee: T West (Yorkshire).
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