Savage stays away but still manages to disturb old pals' act

Birmingham City 2 - Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Football

Robbie Savage could start an argument in an empty house. The Wales midfielder was not even present to see his old club beat his current one at St Andrew's, yet he still managed to strain relations between two managers, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes, who were comrades in arms for a decade as Manchester United players.

Bruce had not been aware of an agreement at the time of Savage's protracted defection to Blackburn Rovers that prevented his facing Birmingham City on Saturday. Hughes did know about it and asked his friend and former colleague 48 hours beforehand whether it could be rescinded now that both clubs were safe from relegation.

The answer was no. That decision seemed to rankle the beaten manager as he reflected on a match in which Blackburn led through Jon Stead's early header, only for a Birmingham side inspired by Jermaine Pennant's wing wiles to prevail through Robbie Blake's opportunism and Emile Heskey's sweetly struck left-foot volley 10 minutes from the end.

Hughes talked pointedly of Blackburn being "an honourable club", adding that Savage's presence would have allowed the clubs to "draw a line" under the affair. Bruce's response was revealing. "We had an agreement," he said, before cutting to the chase. "And we were badly treated by his [Hughes'] club over Robbie Savage. Full stop."

Actually it was not full stop. He also claimed Savage's presence would have cost Birmingham "an extra £50,000" in policing costs.

Without Savage, Birmingham have enjoyed a productive spring which has coincided with Pennant's release from prison and the prospect of him linking with a fit-again David Dunn and Muzzy Izzet should fill their fans with optimism.

Goals: Stead (13) 0-1; Blake (61) 1-1; Heskey (80) 2-1.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Lazaridis; Pennant, Johnson, Nafti (Blake, 59), Anderton (Clemence, 22); Pandiani (Morrison, 85), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Martin Taylor.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Johansson (Tugay, 67); Emerton (Gallagher, 76), Reid , Flitcroft, Mokoena, Pedersen (Thompson, 59); Stead. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Short.

Referee: B Knight (Kent).

Booked: Birmingham City Heskey, Morrison; Blackburn Rovers Mokoena.

Man of the match: Pennant.

Attendance: 28,621.