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Nationwide Division One, 26/9/01
Birmingham City
The persecution of Saint Trev
By Ian Grant

Look, we've gone too far. BSaD has, we hope, established a reputation for balanced, rational opinion. We must set the record straight.

For years, Trevor Francis has been persecuted by a world that neither understands nor sympathises. Cruelly, fate has thrown so many obstacles in his path, stopping Birmingham City from taking their rightful place in the Premiership. And, like the sneering cronies of a school bully, fate has been joined by referees, opponents, fans, governing bodies, misfortune...and, erm, more referees. Faced with such an onslaught, one can only marvel at the managerial skills that have prevented City from sliding down the divisions into oblivion.

And here we go again. Another Birmingham preview from BSaD, another chance to stick the boot in. Is there no end to the torment that the world will inflict on Saint Trev? Will there come a time when his astonishingly dignified, stoical acceptance can no longer be maintained?

On Tuesday, the gods will toy with him once again, as he goes in front of the authorities to answer charges of "improper conduct" for his defiant resistance to yet further victimisation in last season's playoff semi-final against Preston. Clearly, BSaD hopes that Trev's explanation - that his team had taken loads of penalties on the training ground during that week and scored them all, thus making a shoot-out completely unnecessary - finds the acceptance that it deserves. And we condemn unequivocally the cruel laughter of those who watched the proceedings on television. Fortunately, unexpected support from the ever-rational PFA will undoubtedly help his cause.

Then, a day later, Trev will have to trek down to Hertfordshire to face those dastardly cheats from Vicarage Road, with their big strikers and tame referees and intimidating crowd. It just isn't fair. Last season, the Watford victory in this fixture was entirely down to a refused penalty appeal, an incident that completely over-shadowed the two goals that they scored...although, pleasingly, the Hornets offered a very public apology for their behaviour by allowing City to win by the same score at St Andrews.

We wish Birmingham well. Were it not for Trev's continued persecution, we would be free to dwell on their numerous good points - like, ooh, loads of things - and share their glowing contribution to the happy family that is Nationwide Division One. And we wouldn't want to make things any worse for him by sticking several goals past his defence. No, not at all. Honestly.

That defence has taken a bit of a pounding recently. In particular, one thinks of Trev's very public anger at the treatment of loan signing Bjorn Otto Bragstad by Blues fans during last week's home loss to Burnley. Bragstad has returned to Derby as a consequence, further weakening the centre of an injury-hit back-line.

With highly-rated Darren Purse sidelined for six weeks with a broken wrist, sustained while trying to save a shot by his manager in training (which raises more questions than I can find room for here), the return to fitness of David Holdsworth is timely. The former Watford captain played for the reserves last week and, in the absence of experienced alternatives, was expected to start in Sunday night's game with Preston, although youngster Joey Hutchinson is also in contention and veteran David Burrows is available too. The constant in that position is Michael Johnson, one of few who remain from the chaotic and hilarious Barry Fry era.

On the right, it remains to be seen whether Nicky Eaden's attempts to prove his fitness in time for the Preston game will be successful. If so, he's a reliable full back, capable of moving into midfield when necessary. If not, the forward-thinking Jerry Gill, signed from Yeovil four years ago, will probably continue to fill in. Whatever, Trev is reported to be close to doing a deal with FC Copenhagen for Danish Under-21 international Christian Poulsen. The other side is dominated by the thoroughly rugged Martin Grainger - left backs in the post-Pearce era all seem to come from the same mould.

Only the loan of Alan Kelly from Blackburn has prevented the necessity of using a "rush goalie", as the list of City stoppers - Ian Bennett, Kevin Poole and Nico Vaesen - has been wiped out by injuries. The Preston game will be Kelly's last, but Vaesen has now recovered from a severe arm infection (euch!) and has been on the bench recently.

Again, injuries have deprived the City midfield of some of its more familiar faces. Club captain Martin O'Connor, one of those unspectacular players who can be so essential in bringing a side together, has an ankle ligament injury and won't be available. In his place, two recent signings from either side of the Sheffield divide - Curtis Woodhouse and Danny Sonner - could be used. Graham Hyde is currently on loan at Chesterfield, an arrangement which was recently extended, and there's also someone called Ross Diamond, which is an absolutely excellent name. Attempts to sign Chris Bart-Williams from Forest ended after the player rejected the move, despite a £1m fee being agreed between the clubs.

The unfortunate Jon McCarthy is sidelined with a broken leg for the third time in his career, so Bryan Hughes, a dynamic, attacking right-sided midfielder who has been known to fill in as a striker, will be the likely choice to spend the afternoon running away from Robbo. At first glance, left-sided Stan Lazaridis is part of the recent City tradition - Ricky Otto, Peter Ndlovu - of fancy attacking players who can safely be left to dribble into the advertising hoardings every half an hour or so. He's far more dangerous than that, though.

Up front, Trev does have plenty to choose from. Here, we find Geoff Horsfield, a player of enormous subtlety and finesse who puts his manager's cast-iron footballing principles into practice at all times. Alongside him, pacy teenager Andy Johnson has already proved his talent for goalscoring and will provide a greater, and less predicable, threat. Dele Adebola is injured, but Paul Furlong is still knocking around and, despite being transfer-listed, has made recent substitute appearances. Similarly, Marcelo, while assumed to be on his way and the subject of interest from Barnsley, has also been on the bench of late.

Which leaves one Watford legend. Reports suggest that Tommy Mooney was "fighting to be fit" - a clichéd phrase, were it not for everything we know about him - for Sunday's game against Preston, after month-long treatment on an ankle that was briefly feared to be broken. It seems safe to assume that he'll really be fighting to be fit for a return to Vicarage Road. And, no matter how depressing it would be to see him in another team's shirt and how terrifying it would be to see him hurtling at our defence, you rather hope that he makes it. The ovation would leave more than a few misty-eyed.

In many ways, the two clubs have made similarly patchy starts to campaigns that need to have positive outcomes. Both have been stuffed at Maine Road, both are conceding too many goals, both are needing to put an end to sequences of poor results.

Really, although sniping at Trev is enormous fun, we have more serious matters to attend to on Wednesday. If ever there's be a moment for us to get it together and offer a reprise of that dashing second half against Wimbledon, this is it.

Failing that, three points would be bloody useful.