Ferdinand brings a smile to Adams' face

Birmingham City 0 Leicester City 1
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The Independent Football

Micky Adams made a particularly pertinent observation this week: "People are not interested in excuses." The Leicester City manager was actually talking about how his team would cope on the pitch here against their West Midlands neighbours. But equally he could have been discussing events far away from it in the wake of the La Manga affair. Whatever one may say about the failure of Adams to exercise authority over his players on a "bonding" break, and what many regard as a weak initial reaction to their behaviour, he has since responded commendably to what the Birmingham match-day programme referred to coyly as "the Spanish situation".

He offered his resignation, which was rejected by the club chairman Jim Cahill, and, while emphasising that he felt let down by a minority of his players, he has endeavoured to prepare the remnants of his team for this crucial derby with some dignity.

Yesterday, without the three members of the team who until Friday had been in Murcia's Sangonera La Verde jail on charges of sexual assault, Adams was rewarded by a redoubtable rearguard action and a Les Ferdinand goal on a rare foray upfield. Little evidence of jailhouse rot here. For the first time in 10 days, the manager permitted pleasure to crease features which have otherwise been a grim mask of misery.

At the final whistle, his old friend Steve Bruce rubbed Adams' hair, in a gesture of genuine affection. While the condemnation of Leicester's players involved in the unseemly events in Spain will continue, regardless of the legal ramifications, there can be no doubt the manager has emerged from a torrid period with his reputation intact, if not enhanced.

Bruce, who nearly 30 years ago was Adams' fellow trainee at Gillingham, had profound sympathy for his counterpart. Beforehand, Birmingham's manager nobly suggested to Blues fans that they should concentrate on supporting their team rather than directing any mischievous observations at the visitors. Some hope. "Innocent? You're having a laugh" filled the stadium as Adams' men took the field. There was some response from the Leicester quarter, but it was half-hearted. All but the most myopic recognises that, whatever the eventual outcome, this has been a highly embarrassing period in the Foxes' history, one which has brought shame to both club and country.

"We've had a difficult two weeks which we'd rather not have had," reflected Adams. "But we've dealt with it in the best way we could. We wanted to make the right kind of headlines today, and give something back to the fans ­ and we've done that."

He added: "There was a certain amount of euphoria afterwards. It was nothing to do with what happened out there, but just because we haven't had that [winning] feeling for a while. No one regrets it [the events in Spain] more than me. I could have done better. We need an internal investigation to find out what went on."

Admittedly, on the pitch yesterday, his team received co-operation from their hosts, who will have utterly frustrated their own manager with some woeful finishing, with Stan Lazaridis, Birmingham's most resourceful attacker, and Mikael Forssell particularly at fault. It just makes you wonder how the Blues will rue the absence of Christophe Dugarry, who is returning to France because his family have been unable to settle here.

But there are occasions when a team needs a break and Leicester capitalised fully on theirs yesterday. Suitably dressed for the occasion in sombre black, Leicester fielded two of the nine players ­ Steffen Freund and Nikos Dabizas ­ caught up in events in La Manga, while three were on the bench: Danny Coyne, Lilian Nalis and Matt Elliott. The trio jailed during the past week, and now released on bail ­ Frank Sinclair, Paul Dickov and Keith Gillespie ­ arrived back in Britain on Friday but will not return to the club until tomorrow.

Adams, who was twice forced to halt training on Tuesday because his players lacked concentration, commanded complete focus yesterday and certainly during the first half there was rarely evidence that their minds were elsewhere. That is not to say they offered any potent threat to Birmingham, other than an early goalmouth scramble; merely that they countered the Premiership's fifth-placed team with a robust defensive display, with the hosts' only significant opportunity being started superbly byLazaridis, with a surging run from deep, but whose execution from close range made it far too easy for Ian Walker to effect the save.

A few minutes before the interval Clinton Morrison offered an invitation to Forssell to inflict some psychological damage on the relegation-threatened Foxes, but he too struck his effort within Walker's grasp. It was evidently contagious. Morrison was the next to land too light a blow to trouble the goalkeeper.

Leicester, without victory in 15 games and with Steve Guppy sustaining an injury and yielding to Trevor Benjamin in the warm-up, required eight minutes of the second half to progress beyond even their most fervent supporters' aspirations and score the goal that would secure only their fifth Premiership victory. And more than that, the three points to hoist them out of the relegation places.

Muzzy Izzet turned the ball back in to the area after Birmingham failed to clear, and Ferdinand, that man of many a season, supplied the finishing touch. The visiting fans behind that goal at the Railway End danced with joy unconfined and heralded Adams. In response, Birmingham remained stubbornly profligate in front of goal. Forssell headed wide, defender Olivier Tebily scuffed a decent chance wide and Lazaridis was again off target.

It was a strange afternoon, with the atmosphere curiously flat, and long before the final whistle it had petered out, with even the home crowd recognising there would only be one winner. From out of the gloom surrounding the Walkers Stadium, Adams has shone the first shaft of light. Time will tell if the more misguided members of his team will see it.

Birmingham City 0 Leicester City 1
Ferdinand 53

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 29,491

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