Crewe's frailty highlighted by Adebola effect

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The gap between the aspiring than the merely surviving in the First Division looked a wide one at Gresty Road as Dele Adebola played a major role in beating his old club.

The gap between the aspiring than the merely surviving in the First Division looked a wide one at Gresty Road as Dele Adebola played a major role in beating his old club.

Birmingham got as far as the play-offs last season, whilst Crewe struggled at the other end of the table and, long before second half goals from Bryan Hughes and Marcelo, the signs were there that their destinies might lead them in those directions again this season.

The biggest mistake Crewe made yesterday was injuring the City striker, Peter Ndlovu, in the 27th minute. It was not that Ndlovu had been playing particularly badly - he had been responsible for Birmingham's two best attempts on goal by then - but his departure brought on the out-of-favour Adebola, who has made a habit of punishing Crewe since his £1m transfer to St Andrew's in 1998.

It was immediately apparent that Adebola's more muscular approach was likely to expose Crewe's frailty. Within minutes of coming on, his run set up Geoff Horsfield for what should have been the first goal, but he poked his shot wide.

Adebola was not to score himself, but his part in both goals was crucial. First, eight minutes into the second half, he threw himself at Stan Lazaridis' left-wing cross and although his header was half stopped it sat up neatly for Hughes, who tucked it away for a lead that was already long overdue.

Birmingham had a string of other chances, the best of them to Martin O'Connor, saved by Jason Kearton with his feet, and David Holdsworth, tipped over by the goalkeeper, before they made sure of the points 11 minutes from time.

This time, Adebola supplied the cross and Marcelo, himself brought on when Horsfield was wisely substituted after being lucky to escape a red card for aiming a head-butt at Steve Macauley, bundled it in.

Crewe's first real shot, off-target from Neil Sorvel, raised an ironic cheer, before Adebola was denied the goal he deserved when his swerving shot hit the post. "He is much the same as he was when he was here. He'd make a difference to us," said the Crewe manager, Dario Gradi, wistfully. "But then he should. He's a £1m player and we haven't got a £1m player in our team.

Nor, on this showing, do they have the spirit and optimism that can make up for such deficiencies, which points to a long, hard season ahead.

"It was a difficult game for us today," Gradi continued. "Birmingham don't provide any surprises but they go about their job very well."

Goals: Hughes 54 (0-1); Cipriano 81 (0-2).

Crewe Alexandra (3-5-2): Kearton; Walton, MacAuley, Wright; Maybury, Sorvel, Lunt, Lumsden, Smith (Street, 75); Little (Jack, 59), Hulse (Tait, 59). Substitutes not used: Bankole (gk), Sodje.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Eaden, Holdsworth, Purse, M Johnson; Sonner, O'Connor, Hughes, Lazaridis (A Johnson, 81); Nlovu (Adebola, 27), Horsfield (Marcelo, 59). Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Gill.

Referee: R Furnandiz (Doncaster).

Bookings: Crewe Hulse. Birmingham Lazaridis, Cipriano.

Man of the match: Adebola.

Attendance: 6,829.

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