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Blues get second-half cream; Birmingham City 2 Bristol Rovers 0.

Birmingham City once again showed their liking for West Country opposition in the Worthington Cup at St Andrew's last night.

Having comfortably disposed of Third Division Exeter City in the first round last month, Blues took a big step towards doing likewise to Second Division Bristol Rovers.

A penalty from midfielder Martin O'Connor and central defender David Holdsworth's header following a corner settled the issue and provided Blues with a two-goal cushion for next Tuesday's second leg at the Memorial Ground.

That both were scored in the second half and came from non-strikers, however, again tells its own story.

Whether manager Trevor Francis acquainted the St Andrew's Dresden china with the Blues' dressing-room masonry during his half-time team-talk is unknown.

But, after a tepid first-half during which his side had just one attempt on goal, Blues came to life in the second period.

Dele Adebola and Peter Ndlovu were more animated than they had been during the first, although it's still clear why Andrew Johnson and Paul Furlong are Francis's current first-choice strike pair.

The latter offer far more movement and mutual understanding than the former, who represented the two changes Francis made to the line-up which started Saturday's First Division derby match against West Bromwich Albion.

The pair replaced injury victims Furlong and Martin Grainger as Francis opted for a 3-5-2 formation, rather than his customary 4-4-2.

Whether that was to match Rovers like-for-like, or because the Blues manager had Saturday's match at Ipswich Town in mind, remains to be seen.

The experiment, however, lasted all of 27 minutes - a period which saw Rovers do most of the attacking. Even so, they had only one meaningful attempt on goal to show for their admirable enterprise.

That came in the 12th minute, following a one-two between former Wolverhampton Wanderers youngster Jason Roberts and Jamie Cureton.

The pair's effort bypassed defender Gary Rowett, as did the end-product when Roberts' shot slithered clear of Kevin Poole's left-hand post and wide.

A sizeable crowd - again fuelled by another kids-for-a-quid promotion - had to wait until four minutes before the interval for Blues to have their first attempt.

Adebola, cutting inside from the right, fired straight but tamely at Rovers keeper Lee Jones. By then, Adebola had been paired up-front with Ndlovu, because Johnson had been substituted in the tactical reshuffle.

The effects of the change were not seen until the second half when O'Connor and Graham Hyde took control of the midfield and it was O'Connor who sealed that domination when he converted a penalty in the 51st minute.

Awarded by referee George Cain when Stan Lazaridis was flattened by Stephen Foster in an attempt to reach Jon McCarthy's right-wing cross, O'Connor hit it hard and high into the roof of Jones' goal.

Lazaridis also played a part in Blues' second strike, nine minutes later. This time, the left-footed Australian international took an inswinging corner from the right wing and Holdsworth did the necessary, netting his third goal of the season with a powerful header.

Adebola also went close with a header and McCarthy stabbed wide after being set up by a low cross from Lazaridis.

Blues, however, should have done enough to have booked their passage into the next round.

Game over: David Holdsworth salutes the Blues faithful after his 62nd-minute goal as Peter Ndlovu and Gary Rowett congratulate their team-mate. Picture/KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH


Scorers: O'Connor (10, 51), 1-0, Holdsworth (62) 2-0.

BIRMINGHAM CITY (3-5-2): Poole; Rowett, Holdsworth, Johnson (M); McCarthy, Hyde, Ndlovu (Forinton, 83), O'Connor, Lazaridis (Newton, 89); Johnson (A) (Gill, 28), Adebola. Subs: Purse, Knight (gk).

BRISTOL ROVERS (3-5-2): Jones; Thomson, Tillson, Foster; Pethick, Hillier (Bennett, 90), Mauge, Pritchard (Bryant ,55), Leoni; Cureton, Roberts. Subs: Ellington, Trought, Kuipers (gk).

Bookings: Blues - Gill (foul), Rovers - Foster (foul).

Referee: G Cain (Seaford).

Attendance: 17,457

Blues man of the match: Martin O'Connor - inspirational display in midfield.

Birmingham: Poole, Rowett, Hyde, Holdsworth, McCarthy, O'Connor, Adebola, Ndlovu (Forinton 82), M. Johnson, A. Johnson (Gill 28), Lazaridis (Newton 89). Subs Not Used: Purse, Knight. Booked: Gill. Goals: O'Connor 51 pen, Holdsworth 67. Bristol Rovers: Jones, Pritchard (Bryant 55), Foster, Thomson, Tillson, Mauge, Hillier (Bennett 90), Cureton, Roberts, Pethick, Leoni. Subs Not Used: Ellington, Trought, Kuypers. Booked: Roberts, Foster. Att: 17,457 Ref: George Cain (Seaforth).
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Title Annotation:National
Author:Milledge, Adrian
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 15, 1999
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