Grainger rescues Blues

Watford 3 Birmingham City 3
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The Independent Football

Two sides shaping up for mid-table mediocrity after three successive losses each gave a fair impression last night of a moveable object ranged against a resistible force.

A fiercely struck free-kick from Martin Grainger five minutes from time eventually earned the visitors a point from a match in which the protagonists took it in turns to throw away the initiative.

Asked to assess his side's defending, Birmingham's manager Trevor Francis smiled enigmatically. "As good as Watford's,'' he said. The quality of the home side's security system was opened to question as early as the second minute when first Stan Lazaridis and then Bryan Hughes cut through the centre of their defence, with the latter rolling the ball past the oncoming goalkeeper for the opening goal.

In his programme notes, Watford's manager Gianluca Vialli had called upon the crowd not to get on the backs of their struggling team and the message appeared to have been received loud and clear. Within eight minutes, the home supporters' forbearance was rewarded when Tommy Smith produced an equaliser from Paul Robinson's through ball after Watford had put together a passage of one-touch play which hinted tantalisingly at their eventual potential under the Italian.

After a tragi-comic interlude in which the injured Pierre Issa was dumped into the advertising hoardings as his stretcher bearers fell over, Watford took the lead in the 28th minute when Neil Cox headed home from a corner. But any suggestion that the men in yellow and red had finally got a grip on the game was dissipated within two minutes of the restart when Ramon Vega's slip allowed a cross from Andrew Johnson to reach the unmarked Geoff Horsfield, who drilled home an equaliser.

Watford responded immediately and might have gone ahead four times in the space of eight minutes midway through the half, coming closest when Michael Johnson cleared off the line from Smith.

The breakthrough appeared to have arrived 11 minutes from time when Heidar Helguson broke down the right and crossed for Stephen Glass to make it 3-2 with a diving header. But within six minutes the Glass divide was shattered by Grainger's boot.

Afterwards Ray Wilkins, Vialli's assistant, said: "As a team we didn't defend as we would like to have done,'' he said. "When you score three goals at home you expect to win.''

Watford (4-4-2): Baardsen; Cox, Vega, Issa (Doyley, 23), Robinson; Hyde (Wooter, 23; Helguson, 73), Vernazza, Fisken, Glass; Smith, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Noel-Williams.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Vaesen; Gill, Holdsworth, M Johnson, Grainger; Eaden (Sonner, h-t), Hughes, Woodhouse, Lazaridis (Mooney, h-t); A Johnson (Marcelo), Horsefield. Subs not used: Hutchinson, Poole (gk).

Referee: M Dean (Cheshire).