Heath's mentor becomes rival

SECOND DIVISION

Wednesday 14 August 1996 23:02
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During a brief, unproductive stint as an Aston Villa player, Adrian Heath came to admire Graham Taylor's man-management style and thoroughness. The respect survived Taylor's travails with England, and circumstances have now conspired to make them rivals for promotion.

As Burnley's player-manager, the 35-year-old Heath is balancing a desire to be his own man with lessons absorbed from the likes of Howard Kendall and Taylor. The latter, who took up his first such appointment nearly 24 years ago, is back at Watford as general manager, striving at 51 to recreate the rise which once made them runners-up behind Liverpool.

Each took up his post in the middle of a relegation tussle this year. Heath won his, Burnley gaining some impressive results against the promotion pack. Taylor, after taking Watford's apparently forlorn fight to the final fixture, ran out of time.

Heath has since brought over a Portuguese Under-21 striker, Bambo. A fee of pounds 65,000 saw Damien Matthew swap Crystal Palace for Turf Moor, though the master stroke may have been to persuade Vince Overson and Nigel Gleghorn to move free from Stoke.

Taylor, abetted by Kenny Jackett, has added Wimbledon's Steve Talboys and the Sunderland keeper Alec Chamberlain. Perhaps more significantly, Watford repelled Wolves' interest in David Connolly, the teenager whose two hat-tricks last spring led to Republic of Ireland caps. A good start and Elton John might even fund a few transfers amid the tantrums and tiaras.

Millwall also look ready to revive after relegation. Jimmy Nicholl has dispensed with his Russian misfits and spent pounds 1.5m in the market he knows best. Steve Crawford, his chief striker at Raith, won a Scotland cap last year, while Nicholl once described the defender Davie Sinclair as "so hard he has tattoos on his teeth".

Barry Fry has suffered demotion too, though his knowledge of the lower divisions should be more useful to Peterborough than it was to Birmingham. The coup in acquiring Martin O'Connor from Walsall showed that Fry sees the need for quality as well as quantity.

Crewe's Dario Gradi is Fry's transfer antithesis. The home-grown potential of Gareth Whalley, Mark Rivers, Francis Tierney and Danny Murphy may have to be fulfilled elsewhere, however, unless he finds a happy medium between being required watching and sustaining a challenge.

Of the promoted clubs, Preston have the momentum and money to pick up where they left off; Plymouth should flourish under Neil Warnock; and the meanest defence in history ought to sustain Gillingham. Alan Smith's Wycombe could be useful long shots, but Blackpool may need longer to recover from blowing promotion and sacking Sam Allardyce in favour of the unproven Gary Megson.

The Bristol clubs are again in transition, with Rovers moving to the city's rugby union club under Ian Holloway's player-managership. Mere survival would nevertheless be a disappointment. For Luton, Bury, Shrewsbury, Rotherham and York, it may the best they can hope for.

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