Football: Taylor's X-rated vision a poor draw

Watford 1 Rowett og 68 Birmingham City 1 Adebola 22 Attendance: 10,096
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The Independent Online
GRAHAM TAYLOR light-heartedly suggested in his programme notes for yesterday's game against Birmingham that a blind school would have had little trouble scoring against his Watford defence on recent form. As the Hornets dozed through a sunlit first half, he probably wished his team had at least that much imagination.

Birmingham were in such utter control it seemed unlikely that Trevor Francis would have anything other than three points and a table-topping position to celebrate on the journey home. Taylor's team, far from buzzing, were simply spectating when Dele Adebola's spectacular 22nd-minute individual strike, a drilled left-foot shot after a forceful run, signalled the start of what was expected to be a goal avalanche from the visitors.

But, to Birmingham's cost, it never came. Adebola had another chance, but saw it deflected wide and, by one of those dressing-room miracles through which the best managers earn their reputations, Taylor turned his team from mice to lions for the second period.

The substitution of Nick Wright by Darren Bazeley did the trick, as the newcomer brought life and movement to the right extremity of Watford's attack immediately after the interval. An own goal, deflected in by the luckless Gary Rowett as Micah Hyde's header arrowed wide from a corner, brought Watford a merited equaliser with 22 minutes to go.

So, what some had anticipated as an early-season promotion clash in pursuit of the the Premiership ended up being that old-fashioned cliche, a game of two halves - and not a very good one, at that.

On a perfect day and an equally enticing pitch, the football rarely matched the conditions. There were too many misplaced passes, moves that broke down, inaccurate crosses and aimless runs. Perhaps, as so often, it was because of the noon kick-off, or maybe it was the tension of knowing that this was the biggest game, outside Wembley, in the London area yesterday.

Birmingham are tipped by many to sustain their challenge under Francis. In the strikers Adebola and Paul Furlong, who was returning to a former club and to action, after a 15-match absence with a hamstring injury, Francis has a powerful pairing who threaten goals. The rest of the side are disciplined, neat, tidy and well-organised in the modern way, but lacking in improvisational skills. Even the late arrival of Peter Ndlovu failed to change that and the Blues fans, in their hearts, must know they need something extra to gain elevation.

Watford, also among the pace-setters, continued their inconsistent way. This game mirrored their season - on the rack one week, on the attack the next. But compared to the old days of Taylor at Vicarage Road in the Eighties, some things have changed. His 4-4-2 formation has become 5-2-3, with more fluidity, even if the end game still produces more hustle than beauty. No wonder he dismissed the idea of Watford having their own pay-per-view channel. "It would have to be all X-rated," he joked.

At least Taylor could take consolation from avoiding a defeat to match the 4-1 thumping Watford suffered on their last meeting with a Birmingham club, West Bromwich Albion, six days earlier. That, he said, really was unwatchable. After all these years, he should know.