Francis boost as City turn on style

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The Independent Online

Birmingham City trailed at half-time but bounced back emphatically to score a fourth consecutive victory last night, giving their manager, Trevor Francis, reason to feel pleased with his work after encountering board room turblulence at St Andrews. Half-time substitute Andy Johnson turned the contest on its head making one goal and scoring another in the space of seven minutes after Mark Rankine had given Preston the lead.

Birmingham City trailed at half-time but bounced back emphatically to score a fourth consecutive victory last night, giving their manager, Trevor Francis, reason to feel pleased with his work after encountering board room turblulence at St Andrews. Half-time substitute Andy Johnson turned the contest on its head making one goal and scoring another in the space of seven minutes after Mark Rankine had given Preston the lead.

Only last week, Francis felt obliged to seek a clarification of his position in the wake of criticism from co-owner David Sullivan, who felt the former idol of the terraces was too inclined to talk down his side's potential. It was by no means the first spat between the two, but Francis emerged having won a vote of confidence.

Injuries wrecked last season's bid and there have been more this year, with Danny Sonner and David Burrows joining Jon McCarthy on the list of absentees. And a change was necessary before half-time last night when centre back Michael Johnson limped off after 28 minutes.

Preston then enjoyed a fruitful spell and capitalised with a goal from Rankine 10 minutes before half-time. Martin Grainger was passed all too easily by Jon Macken, who looked up to find plenty of support arriving. Lee Cartwright swung a boot and missed but Rankine made no error, thumping home from eight yards.

The home side responded positively. Peter Ndlovu, turning inside the box and shooting firmly, was unlucky to hit the ball straight at Lucas, and the substitute Purse was only inches wide with a header.

All changed, however, after Francis gambled with a double substitution at half-time, leaving himself with no remaining injury cover. The introduction of winger Steve Robinson in place of Jacques Williams allowed Bryan Hughes to take up a more familiar central midfield role, while Marcelo gave way in attack to Andy Johnson. Hughes was instantly more affected but it was the latter who turned the game.

Winning a determined challenge against defender Sean Gregan, Johnson pushed the ball left to Ndlovu, whose first-time shot went in off the far post. Then it was Johnson who arrived to head home when the goalkeeper managed only to parry the ball.

Johnson was in the thick of things again as Birmingham wrapped up the points with 12 minutes left, winning a penalty when the Preston substitute Michael Jackson brought him down a yard inside the box on the left. Martin O'Connor, the Birmingham captain, scored from the spot.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Eaden, Holdsworth, M Johnson (Purse, 28), Grainger; Hughes, O'Connor, Williams (Robinson, h-t), Ndlovu; Marcelo (A Johnson, h-t), Horsfield. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Hyde.

Preston North End (4-4-2): Lucas; Alexander, Gregan, Murdock, Edwards; Cartwright (Jackson, 68), Appleton, Rankine, McKenna (Gunnlaugson 68); Basham (Robinson, 79). Macken. Substitutes not used: Eyres, O'Hanlon (gk).

Referee: J Robinson (Hull).

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