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Jan 7, 2012

Midlands derby fails to spark

This local derby battle appeared to have all the ingredients required to produce an FA Cup third round classic, yet the spark that could have ignited one of the iconic weekends of the English season was nowhere to be found at St Andrew's.

In front of a modest crowd, and on a battle-scarred pitch that was hardly conducive to free flowing football, Birmingham and Wolves played out a tie that rarely threatened a goal, with the inevitable replay a certainty from first minute to last in a game short of goalmouth incidents.

While effort and energy were not lacking from the 28 players who eventually took part in this fixture, quality was sadly absent and the ESPN cameras recording this game for posterity highlighted the lack of action on the pitch by constantly panning to more compelling incidents in the sparsely populated stands.

The sight of a shirtless Wolves supporter shivering in the chilled Midlands January air, glimpses of another far more interested in her half-time pie than the 'action' she had paid good money to see and the delight of two kids amusing themselves with a yo-yo were all more compelling images than those provided by the two teams. It may be our job to try to make the boring seem thrilling at times, but such a task was impossible on this occasion.

We were not even treated to a star showing from the much-hailed Birmingham wonderkid Nathan Redmond, who struggled to make his mark on a day when he was placed under the spotlight, though this was not an occasion to pass judgment on a 17-year-old who has been linked with a big money move to the Manchester clubs in recent weeks.

Showing flashes of his searing pace and trickery on the ball, Redmond came closest to scoring for Birmingham as his late shot forced a decent save from Wolves 'keeper Dorus De Vries, before Matt Jarvis so nearly stole an improbable winner for Wolves as his injury-time shot struck a post after a fingertip save from Birmingham 'keeper Colin Doyle.

Even though we had to wait 93 minutes for a moment of true quality, Jarvis' curling effort brought a flying save from Doyle, with the big Irishman alert enough to block Steven Fletcher's follow up and preserve his clean sheet.

"It wasn't a great game was it? Let's be honest," Wolves boss Mick McCarthy said. "The only thing we can take from this is that we were solid defensively and we have kept a clean sheet. We don't get many of them, so I have to happy with that side of the game.

"An extra fixture doesn't worry me too much because we only have 18 games left in the Premier League and Birmingham were always going to be a tough nut for us to crack. We could have nicked it at the end with Jarvis' shot, but their keeper has produced two great saves to keep them in it. There isn't too much more to say really."

Birmingham boss Chris Hughton was content with his side's efforts but accepted they needed a touch more dynamism in the final third. "We got ourselves into some really good areas and just couldn't quite find the quality required to prize open the Wolves defence," Hughton said.

"It always looked like being a draw in many ways and that is the worst result for us. We have enough fixtures to concern ourselves with already, but we have to take the positives out of competing with a Premier League team and taking something from it."

The first half of this tie provided the plotline for a match that would never lift off, with opportunities in front of goal as rare as moments of quality on a St Andrew's pitch that was showing the effects of battle after a hectic first six months of the season that included a host of Europa League matches.

However, the bobbled nature of the playing surface was not an excuse for a game that failed to spark into life. The hope was that things could only get better after the break and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake should have provided the ignition when he found himself with plenty of time and space in the centre of the Birmingham penalty area after 57 minutes. With the goal at his mercy, the Wolves No. 9 blazed his shot over the bar and instantly looked at the uneven surface in a bid to blame anyone but himself for his woeful miss.

Occasional bursts from Stephen Hunt and his compatriot Stephen Ward down the left flank fuelled the belief that Wolves were getting a foothold in this tie, yet not even Steven Fletcher's introduction was enough to give Wolves the goal that their more offensive effort in the second half may have merited.

In truth, neither side deserved to win this instantly forgettable game and we can only hope the replay of this third-round stalemate proves to be more intriguing than this dire first meeting.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Colin Doyle. Neat and tidy throughout, the towering Irishman earned his side a replay as he produced a magnificent double save in injury time to deny Wolves.

BIRMINGHAM VERDICT: The Championship side more than matched their Premier League opponents, but their lack of quality in the attacking third will concern Chris Hughton. He needs to add some firepower to his line-up or seek to renew Chris Wood's loan deal after his successful stint at Birmingham came to an end.

WOLVES VERDICT: The first-half injury suffered by defensive powerhouse Roger Johnson was the last thing Mick McCarthy wanted from this FA Cup opener, but he seems ready to embark on an lengthy run in this competition and will fancy his chances of progressing to the fourth round in a Molineux replay.

FACE IN THE CROWD: Former Sunderland boss Steve Bruce was spotted observing a tie that will hardly have inspired him to jump back into the managerial arena any time soon.

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