Heskey shows Bruce his old killer instinct

Birmingham City 1 - Manchester City 0
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The Independent Football

Birmingham City and Emile Heskey are off and running. Alas, Manchester City remain stalled, barely off the starting grid. An untidy contest between two previously winless clubs ended in a predictable result, with Heskey one of the few entitled to look back on it fondly.

Birmingham City and Emile Heskey are off and running. Alas, Manchester City remain stalled, barely off the starting grid. An untidy contest between two previously winless clubs ended in a predictable result, with Heskey one of the few entitled to look back on it fondly.

Saturday's game against Chelsea left a nasty taste in Birmingham mouths, not just the manner of defeat to a deflected Joe Cole shot but also, belatedly, the three-game ban handed to Robbie Savage for a stray elbow.

Steve Bruce's response to the absence of his midfield firebrand was an attacking line-up that needed only seven minutes to achieve a breakthrough. Stan Lazaridis advanced from his left-back station to swing over a fine centre that dropped invitingly between Sylvain Distin and Ben Thatcher.

The shove Heskey received on take-off possibly added to his momentum as he made excellent contact to guide his header past the motionless David James.

Heskey's move to St Andrew's appeared to be a done deal even when he was making an impressive appearance at the ground in May as part of his farewell tour with Liverpool.

There was no doubting his delight at registering for the first time in his new colours, Bruce sharing the joy at an early example of the old-fashioned centre-forward play that prompted him to invest £6.25m in the now fringe England man.

Kevin Keegan's forwards were not firing as convincingly. Nicolas Anelka had already squandered a golden opportunity when producing a fresh-air shot to a pull-back from Shaun Wright-Phillips, then Robbie Fowler miscued horribly wide from Sun Jihai's centre.

For the most part, though, Birmingham were on top, and Julian Gray fired and headed wide of the far post from crosses by Jesper Gronkjaer and Mario Melchiot respectively.

City were vulnerable to centres and Mikael Forssell headed over from Muzzy Izzet's free-kick before a cross by Lazaridis sparked more confusion in the defence, which was also threatened by Forssell's charged-down overhead kick.

Lazaridis was to depart shortly afterwards following a blow on the knee, and Heskey also appeared to have taken a knock when leaving the fray around the same time.

Birmingham could have sealed the match late in the second half when the substitute Stern John was played clear following a long through ball, only for James to advance and beat away his tentative shot.

They might have been made to pay had Damien Johnson not produced a brilliant interception when Danny Mills shaped for a header close in.

¿ The Dutch goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus is poised to sign a short-term contract at Manchester City until next January.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Lazaridis (Clemence, 59); Gronkjaer, Izzet, Johnson, Gray; Forssel (Tebily, 79), Heskey (John, 54). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Martin Taylor.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Sun Jihai, Mills, Distin, Thatcher; Wright-Phillips, Bosvelt (Barton, 79), Reyna, Sibierski (Sinclair, 57); Anelka, Fowler (Macken, 79). Substitutes not used: Ellgaard (gk), Bischoff.

Bookings: Mills, Izzet

Referee: P Dowd (Staffs).

Man of the match: Cunningham.

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