Bruce faces rethink as Heskey debut turns sour

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The Independent Football

The best-laid plans of mice and men do not mean much when the most expensive signing in your history is taken off on a stretcherafter just 14 minutes, but that was the fate that befell Birmingham City and Emile Heskey yesterday afternoon, completely overshadowing this 1-1 draw with Osasuna.

In beautiful weather that the Spanish team had seemingly imported to the West Midlands, the Blues £6.5 million man, signed this summer from Liverpool, was making his home debut in front of a near-full St Andrew's in this friendly, despite the allure of the Twenty20 cricket nearby at Edgbaston.

And as home bows go, the England international did not exactly get the chance to shine on what should have been a special day for the man who first made his name in the midlands as a bushy-tailed centre-forward with Leicester City. A regulation challenge, albeit from behind, by right-back Cesar Cruchaga, who was named the fairest defender in Spain's Primera Ligatwo years ago, saw Heskey finish up on his backside and departing the scene almost as quickly as he had entered it. He was taken to hospital for a scan on his knee, which does not augur well for his chances of playing in the Premiership opener next week at Portsmouth.

So what did everybody get to see of a player whose move out to the wing at Liverpool foreshadowed his move out of the club that had paid £11m for him? After tactical tinkering and an ever-worsening goal ratio meant his three years at Anfield drew to a premature close, the Birmingham manager Steve Bruce had promised to return Heskey to the forefront of the attack, from where he had also been removed with England by the emergence of Wayne Rooney.

Heskey did indeed start here up front alongside Mikael Forssell, who is on loan from Chelsea for another season, and displayed some of the bustle and muscle for which he is famous. He was able to run free through the middle, knowing that the left flank was occupied by Jesper Gronkjaer, another of Bruce's summer acquisitions, but cheaper, the Danish international arriving from Chelsea for £2.5m.

But one flick-on and one backheel and turn past a defender in the penalty area was all anyone could enjoy before Cruchaga's intervention.

Gronkjaer was not at his most penetrative and he may have appeared slightly forlorn, especially with Heskey suddenly gone, but a glance across the pitch and he would have seen the familiar sight at right-back of Mario Melchiot, who also arrived from Chelsea this summer.

The Dutchman looked steady enough as did Muzzy Izzet, signed for free from Leicester and playing in his crucial midfield holding role. The locals also got a look at a sprightly Julian Gray down the left, as Gronkjaer moved flanks. The visitors threatened to round off a bad day for Bruce with a goal from Valdo after 73 minutes, although Jamie Clapham equalised 11 minutes later.

However, it is those hospital results for Heskey rather than this result that will concern everyone far more.

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