Birmingham City 1 Fulham 1
If Birmingham City spent the morning looking forward to the prospect of a simple victory over Fulham and the seven-point gap it would have established between the relegation rivals, their evening was considerably more fretful.
That fact is largely explained by the way they passed their afternoon - making hard work of limited opponents against whom a home win is virtually taken for granted. Fulham have not been successful on their travels all season and until 3.08pm on Saturday, had scored just five times this season away from Craven Cottage.
But for the first 45 minutes, Blues made them look like a team sailing along near the top of the table instead of rudderless at the bottom; as a result, Alex McLeish's men remain only slightly above the Plimsoll Line with the waters of the Championship lapping dangerously close to their toes.
They now face Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in their next three league matches, having failed to take out sufficient insurance in the four far friendlier fixtures that preceded tomorrow's trip to Old Trafford.
It is only after Chelsea come to the West Midlands on January 19 that they will be able to resume the real business of retaining their Premier League status. For that reason they desperately needed maximum points in this game, not that you'd have been able to tell, so poor was the manner in which they went about their task in the early stages.
Fulham could have been ahead inside 30 seconds when David Healy saw his effort from the edge of the area swirl an inch past Maik Taylor's top left-hand corner.
One suspects had the two men been playing together for Northern Ireland, the ball would have found its target without deviation but then Healy is the most enigmatic of strikers, superb for his country and superfluous for his club.
Not that Fulham had to wait long to beat the Birmingham goalkeeper. Stephen Kelly, back to his consistent best, conceded an eighth-minute corner, which was swung to the near post by Simon Davies.
Once there, it found Carlos Bocanegra who had given Franck Queudrue the slip and the American powered his header inside the upright. St Andrew's, unusually full and vociferous, fell flat.
The Boxing Day win over Middlesbrough was supposed to have heralded a turned corner, Bocanegra's header meant Birmingham were covering old ground. It must be noted, however, that Blues should have already been 1-0 up. Only five minutes had elapsed when Mikael Forssell slid a pass to Gary McSheffrey in the inside-right channel. McSheffrey, man of the match against Boro, produced a sublime first touch that took him away from Paul Konchesky and allowed him to bear down on Antti Niemi.
Here, surely, was a first league goal in open play since February. But as he closed in, the goal shrunk and he blazed horribly over. It was an embarrassing moment for a thoroughly committed young footballer, who is desperate to prove his worth in the top flight.
The incident summed up the 25-year-old's contribution. Throughout the game, he produced some dangerous moments but his overall performance was undermined by a loss of composure at the crucial juncture. By the end, the more effort he put in, the less he harvested.
Sometimes, his set-piece delivery was wretched; at other times, it was perfect. The former Coventry City winger needs to negate the disparity between the two.
In the 66th minute, he thought he had made amends for his earlier howler. He and Kelly had begun to make inroads down the right flank and both won free-kicks in excellent positions.
The first, McSheffrey lifted over Niemi's crossbar. The second headed like a missile straight at the Finn, wobbling on its way. Niemi did well to punch it clear and supremely to tip behind Queudrue's hooked volley.
By that stage, Blues had levelled. Ten minutes after the restart, with their ears still ringing from McLeish's half-time tirade, Kelly snuffed out a Fulham attack in his own area and set in motion an incisive counter attack.
The ball reached Fabrice Muamba to the right of the centre circle and the midfielder dissected centre half and full back with the sort of sumptuous pass that all too often seems beyond him.
Sebastian Larsson collected in stride, stepped inside and then, from 20 yards out, let fly with a shot that was deflected by Elliot Omozusi past the wrong-footed Niemi. This goal was far less pretty than his last, the winner at Tottenham Hotspur, but no one cared.
That imbued Birmingham with the belief their manager demands. Mehdi Nafti, who replaced the injured Damien Johnson at the break, knitted defence and attack together and brought a sense of urgency.
Fulham rocked and needed some good defending to keep the hosts at bay. Eventually, though, the storm blew itself out. Continued substitutions saw the game lose its hectic rhythm and the combatants had to settle for a point and an unedifying lunge on Queudrue that saw Hameur Bouazza sent off.
Scorers: Bocanegra (8) 0-1; Larsson (55) 1-1
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Queudrue; McSheffrey, Muamba, Johnson (Nafti, 45), Larsson (De Ridder, 73); Forssell (O'Connor, 77), Jerome. Subs: Doyle, Sadler
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Omozusi, Stefanovic, Bocanegra, Konchesky; Davies, Murphy (Smertin, 70), Davis, Bouazza; Dempsey, Healy (Kuqi, 74). Subs: Warner, Kamara Leijer
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear)
Bookings: Fulham - Konchesky, Davies (both fouls) Sending Off: Bouazza (second bookable offence)