Hughes inspires Birmingham's revenge mission

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The Independent Online

If revenge is sweet, the success which propelled Birmingham towards the First Division's upper reaches came sugar-coated. They all but emulated Barnsley's 4-0 victory at the same venue in the first leg of their play-off semi-final last May, a rout which has rankled with the St Andrew's faithful all summer.

If revenge is sweet, the success which propelled Birmingham towards the First Division's upper reaches came sugar-coated. They all but emulated Barnsley's 4-0 victory at the same venue in the first leg of their play-off semi-final last May, a rout which has rankled with the St Andrew's faithful all summer.

For the Birmingham manager, Trevor Francis, his team's first home victory laid not one ghost but two. One Sunday newspaper had claimed he was about to be replaced by Steve Bruce, the former Birmingham captain who is now in charge of Huddersfield. The manner and margin of yesterday's win leaves Francis as secure as anyone ever is in his precarious profession.

There was no disguising the gloating of the home crowd as Birmingham, inspired by Bryan Hughes, raced into a three-goal lead by the 50th minute through Peter Ndlovu, Martin Grainger and David Holdsworth.

Minutes after Matty Appleby reduced the arrears, Barnsley might have set up a tense finale had Mike Sheron not spurned a clear-cut chance. However, the dismissal of Chris Morgan and a stoppage-time strike by Hughes conspired to ensure a scoreline which accurately reflected the match as a whole.

Birmingham peppered Kevin Miller's goal from the start so it was no surprise when they seized an early lead. The transfer-listed Ndlovu left Geoff Thomas and two colleagues standing with an audacious dummy before advancing into the 18-yard area and unleashing a low drive that passed between the keeper's legs.

Barnsley, having come from behind to win 4-1 at the weekend, might have felt there was time to turn things around. But the requisite urgency was absent, and when Mitch Ward handled Jerry Gill's cross under pressure from Hughes shortly before the break, Grainger bludgeoned home the spot-kick.

Hughes was again involved as Birmingham went further ahead soon after the interval. A corner by Nicky Eaden, Barnsley's captain in the play-offs but now a man of the Midlands, resulted in the former Wrexham midfielder's shot being parried straight to Holdsworth, who bundled the ball in from point-blank range.

Dave Bassett rang the changes in Barnsley's line-up and was rewarded by a distinct improvement which led to one of the substitutes, Appleby, sweeping in a cross by Darren Barnard with 19 minutes left. Sheron's miss five minutes later, when he rolled the ball wide after being sent clear by Barnard, was the wake-up call Birmingham needed.

They were unwittingly abetted by Morgan, who was no sooner cautioned for cutting down Andrew Johnson than he jumped into Holdsworth with an elbow raised. Mr Knight reached for the red card rather than a second yellow.

Hughes rounded off a fine individual display with the fourth goal, picking up a ball for which Andrew Johnson had scrapped and twisting past a defender before beating Miller with a crisp drive from 18 yards.

"It certainly wasn't a flattering scoreline," Francis argued. "It was an excellent performance, good to watch, and made better by the fact that we beat a good side who will be up there challenging for promotion. In fact it has been a very good six days for us - three wins and 11 goals - which we needed after losing to Fulham in our last home fixture."

Bassett, sporting a black eye given to him "by the missus", disputed the penalty and the sending-off in time-honoured fashion but could not deny what had been plain for all to see. "It's a bit different from when I last sat here," he admitted ruefully. "I wish I could say that one of my players did well today, but they didn't. We weren't at the races."

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Gill, Holdsworth, M Johnson, Grainger; Eaden, Sonner, O'Connor, Hughes; Marcelo (Adebola, 73), Ndlovu (A Johnson, 73). Substitutes not used: Purse, Lazaridis, Poole (gk).

Barnsley (3-4-1-2): Miller; Morgan, Chettle, Brown (Neil, h-t); O'Callaghan, Ward (Van der Laan, 51), Thomas (Appleby, h-t), Barnard; Sheron; Shipperley, Dyer. Substitutes not used: Moses, Walker (gk).

Referee: B Knight (Orpington).

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