Football: Tale of two strikers in the second city

Birmingham City 1 West Bromwich Albion 1

UNDER THE admiring gaze of Trevor Francis and Brian Little, whose prowess on opposing sides of second-city derbies often resembled a master class in the goalscorer's art, two young strikers illustrated why Birmingham and Albion are spearheading the West Midlands' push for a place in the Premiership.

Fashions have changed since Saturday's managerial rivals rampaged through top-flight defences, their locks flapping behind them like a superhero's cape. Andrew Johnson and Lee Hughes favour a close-cropped look but while, hairstyles come and go, the breathtaking finishing which brought Birmingham the lead and Albion a point respectively will always be in demand.

Johnson is two years older than Francis was when his freakish feats of marksmanship started. However, since he will not be 19 until February, he is hardly making up for lost time like Hughes, 23, who was laying roofs and playing for Kidderminster at the same age. Standing 5ft 7in, with speed and touch allied to ruthlessness and composure within sight of goal, Johnson has much of the Michael Owen about him.

Unlike the Anfield boy wonder, whom he has succeeded in the England youth set-up, Johnson did not score in his opening 10 First Division appearances. It therefore took a degree of boldness for Francis to prefer him to Dele Adebola and Peter Ndlovu, who cost him pounds 2.6m, but his faith was stunningly vindicated late in a first half dominated by Birmingham.

Two headers, one a long clearance by Darren Purse, the other short and subtle by Stan Lazaridis, sent his blond head darting towards a retreating defence. Johnson had the confidence to take aim early, ensuring that Alan Miller, who was outstanding in Albion's goal, was beaten for power and placement from 18 yards.

The long wait for that first League goal had belied some good performances, Francis said of a player spotted by the club in Barry Fry's home town of Bedford during the latter's colourful reign. "He's got pace and control," the Birmingham manager said. "Combine those two and you've got a player. He has also had a good education here. It's much better to nurture a talent than to buy in, and Andrew's a good listener."

Harshly for Birmingham, Johnson's landmark was soon followed by another for Hughes. His 50th goal since breaking into Albion's side on the last Boxing Day but one came after he took Kevin Kilbane's cut-back six yards out. In a blur of yellow he turned his marker in order to put the ball on his right foot, before dispatching it viciously into the top far corner of the net.

"It was a good finish," mused Little, doing scant justice to a strike which extended Albion's unbeaten start since the former Aston Villa manager decamped from Stoke in late summer. Francis, who justifiably noted that Hughes' shot was the visitors' first, magnanimously called it "fantastic".

Birmingham should not be disheartened. Since the play-off failure of May they have improved their attacking options by promoting Johnson and recruiting Lazaridis, who provides a skilful service from the left wing and a flair for free-kicks that will disconcert lesser goalkeepers than Miller.

They certainly appear better equipped than Albion, in terms of squad depth, funding and support, to regain the status both clubs surrendered in the mid-1980s. Little, though, has already fostered a greater resilience at The Hawthorns. This was the fourth time in six matches Albion had come from behind to take a point or more, as many as they managed all last season under Denis Smith.

Then, Birmingham took them for eight goals and six points. This time Francis' parting shot testified to Albion's combativeness. "It was too easy last year," he said. "This was a proper derby."

Goals: A Johnson (42) 1-0; Hughes (53) 1-1.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Poole; Rowett, Holdsworth, M Johnson, Grainger (Purse, 41); McCarthy, Hyde, O'Connor, Lazaridis; A Johnson (Ndlovu, 73), Furlong (Adebola, 83). Substitutes not used: Newton, Knight (gk).

West Bromwich Albion (4-5-1): Miller; Gabbidon, Raven (Potter, 87), Carbonn, Van Blerk; Sneekes, Flynn, DeFreitas (Evans, 83), Maresca (Oliver, 83), Kilbane; Hughes. Substitutes not used: Quinn, Whitehead (gk).

Referee: T Heilbron (Co Durham). Bookings: Albion: Maresca, Van Blerk.

Man of the match: Miller.

Attendance: 25,495.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

Recruitment Genius: Subscriptions and Marketing Assistant

£12500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A subscriptions and marketing a...

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Supervisor

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well establis...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate