The Football League Paper - - CHAM­PI­ONSHIP - To com­ment on this match go to http://boards.footy­mad.net/ By Neil John­son

TROY DEENEY’S goal en­sured there was no play-off hang­over for Wat­ford – and Gian­franco Zola says his side will only get bet­ter.

Deeney’s 11th-minute strike was enough to sep­a­rate the sides, de­spite a de­ter­mined sec­ond­half per­for­mance from the Blues and dif­fi­cul­ties in fit­ness and com­mu­ni­ca­tion for Zola’s men.

He said: “In the first half we were ex­cel­lent for long spells, although maybe we should have taken more chances and tried to score more than one.

“We didn’t do that and they came back strongly in the sec­ond half as our con­di­tion is still not per­fect and we dropped a lit­tle bit phys­i­cally.

“I’m also look­ing for­ward to see­ing im­prove­ments in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which will come as they play more with each other.

“At the mo­ment, they speak English, Ital­ian-English and a com­bi­na­tion of all of them, but we’re work­ing on that.

“I’m not the best per­son to teach them, but I’ll do my best.

“Over­all, there are some good teams out there, but we are more pre­pared for the league this year and we are look­ing for­ward to chal­leng­ing this sea­son with more to give.”

Deeney’s 20 goals had fired Wat­ford to the brink of pro­mo­tion in 2012-13, only to suf­fer Wem­b­ley play-off heart­break at the hands of Crys­tal Palace.

The 25-year-old put the Hor­nets ahead within 11 min­utes, ex­chang­ing passes with Fer­nando Forestieri be­fore side-foot­ing neatly beyond Dar­ren Ran­dolph.

Birm­ing­ham’s for­ward line, mean­while, was led by their free trans­fer sign­ing from Mans­field, Matt Green.

The for­mer Non-League man was un­lucky to see the ball trickle wide af­ter he chal­lenged goal­keeper Manuel Al­mu­nia strongly for Neal Eard­ley’s through ball on the half-hour.

Five min­utes later, Green pres­surised Marco Cas­setti into lob­bing his own keeper with a header – and the ball, again, bounced ag­o­nis­ingly wide.

At the other end, Lewis McGu­gan’s 25-yarder in first-half in­jury time was well saved by Ran­dolph as the score re­mained 0-1 at the break.

Ikechi Anya’s left-wing drib­bles had been a fea­ture of Wat­ford’s at­tack­ing play dur­ing the open­ing 45 min­utes.

And the well-trav­elled winger was at it again five min­utes af­ter the in­ter­val, only for the im­pres­sive Ran­dolph to even­tu­ally smother his ef­fort.

The Blues, how­ever, were still fight­ing for a lev­eller and Wade El­liott’s spec­u­la­tive 25-yarder drew a mag­nif­i­cent ac­ro­batic save from Al­mu­nia.

The Spaniard saved im­pres- sively again mo­ments later, this time low down from Dan Burn’s close-range ef­fort.

And the Birm­ing­ham de­fender went close for a sec­ond time with a header that bounced inches wide. For all the Blues’ sec­ond-half en­deav­our, they failed to find an equaliser.

Boss Lee Clark said: “Even when we won games here last sea­son, we didn’t play with that in­ten­sity, tempo and en­ergy.

“That’s what I call a proper home per­for­mance in terms of giv­ing your sup­port­ers pride in the jersey – and the Birm­ing­ham City crest mean­ing a lot to the play­ers. I’m a sup­porter at the end of the day.

“When I stop be­ing in­volved in the game I will go back on the ter­races and be­come a fan.

“If fans see a player giv­ing every­thing, they will ex­cuse a mis­take or two and back them ev­ery time.

“That’s what my play­ers have shown and I need that ev­ery week. Then, with im­prove­ments in the fi­nal third – which will come be­cause the play­ers have de­ter­mi­na­tion to im­prove – I think we’ll be fine.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

BACK IN THE OLD ROU­TINE: Troy Deeney quickly re­turns to his old scor­ing ways with Wat­ford’s win­ner

GET IN: Deeney cel­e­brates his strike

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