Francis counts the cost of victory

Birmingham City 1 Crystal Palace 0
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The Independent Online
Financially speaking, Birmingham City benefited lucratively from Sky television for the inconvenience of staging their opening nationwide fixture at 1pm yesterday but the possible cost in human terms left Trevor Francis less than wildly enthusiastic even after his team had scraped an ill-deserved victory over Crystal Palace.

Birmingham's new manager was forced to substitute two players, Paul Tait and Andrew Legg, who succumbed in the intense heat to stomach upsets. "It was a wonderful idea," Francis said sarcastically, "to put the game on at that time. It must have taken a lot of planning to get it on when the sun it at its highest. When I was playing in Italy, they used to put games back at this time of year. Not bring them forward."

The irony, not lost on Francis, was that Steve Bruce, one of the players he has brought in, did, at the age of 35, vie for man of the match honours with Ray Houghton, Palace's 34-year-old captain. Bruce may have paced himself impressively, propping up Birmingham's beleaguered defence and Houghton spared no effort in his prodigious attempts to bring Palace a point which was the very least they deserved in temperatures that did, according to Francis, top 92 degrees.

Starting without half the team that had lined up for them at Wembley last May in their unavailing First Division play off final, Palace survived a torrid opening minute. Chris Day, the goalkeeper they purchased from Spurs to replace Nigel Martyn, somehow blocked a header from Paul Furlong who was to spend much of his debut fighting a lone battle up front.

The only goal came when Paul Devlin capitalised on a moment of casual indifference by Palace's new Australian Kevin Muscat. Gaining possession he cut inside to unleash a left-footed drive that brushed Day's fingers on its way into the net via the far upright.

Alarmed by a header which Houghton immediately crashed against the bar and the ease with which Bruce Dyer streaked past another Birmingham new signing Gary Ablett to create openings galore, Birmingham became even more disjointed following the substitutions. Palace had scorned at least four decent chances post-interval when the unmarked Mike Newell, yet another expensive newcomer, shot wastefully over in the last minute. Yet, even then Palace should have equalised through Houghton following a lovely five-man move typical of his side's refreshing play.

Goal: Devlin (24).

Birmingham (4-4-2): Bennett; Poole, Bruce, Breen, Ablett; Devlin, Horne, Tait (Hunt, 28 mins), Legg (Otto, 61); Newell, Furlong. Substitute not used: Sutton (gk).

Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Day; Edworthy, Roberts, Tuttle; Boxall (Andersson, 63), Houghton, Quinn (Hopkin, 63), Peart (Endah, 77), Muscat; Freedman, Dyer.

Referee: E Lomas, Manchester.

Man of the match: Dyer.

Attendance: 18,765.

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