Norwich City 1 Birmingham City 1
When asked if he was happy with picking up just one point following his side’s 1-1 draw at Carrow Road, Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish paused.
His brow furrowed, his jaw tightened and he appeared to descend into a short trance, as if searching deep within himself for an answer. His perplexity can be understood.
On one hand, he had just watched his Blues side lose their 100 per cent start to their campaign after struggling to contain a Norwich outfit that is still to taste victory this season.
Blues have still to find top form and they were second best for large periods of the game. They had taken a first half lead against the run of play, when Sebastian Larsson headed home from a James McFadden free kick, but had been pegged back straight after the restart when the minds of Blues’ defence were still in the dressing room, allowing Darl Russell to sweep home the equaliser. A point, therefore, was a good return because it could have been so much worse.
But on the other hand, all three points were there for the taking. Despite all of Norwich’s pressure, goalkeeper Maik Taylor didn’t have a serious save to make and Blues had the two best chances of the game in the dying minutes to snatch a winner, but failed to take them.
Substitute Gary McSheffrey had the first opportunity when Marcus Bent chested down a Larsson ball into the box but the Blues winger hooked his shot over the bar, much to the annoyance of Bent.
McSheffrey may be struggling to find the form that made him Blues’ top scorer two seasons ago, but still demonstrates game after game that despite a lack of confidence, he is never scared to get on the ball or get into goalscoring positions, even though he has not found the quality he showed in such abundance after his arrival from Coventry City. This miss was a case in point.
While Blues fans may not have expected McSheffrey to take his chance, considering his current form, they would have thought a winner was a certainty when McSheffrey, who had made another superb run forward from midfield, teed up Kevin Phillips one-on-one with Canaries keeper David Marshall. The prolific striker had already snatched late winners against Sheffield United and Southampton but this time, to everyone’s amazement, including Norwich boss Glenn Roeder who launched Phillips' career at Watford, the net didn’t bulge, Instead Marshall raced off his line and blocked Phillips’ shot with his legs.
The game was there for the taking at the death and Blues weren’t clinical enough when required to kill off the Canaries. If Blues had taken all three points, it would have inspired stereotypical headlines such as ‘smash and grab’, but it certainly wouldn’t have been ‘disgusting’ as Roeder said afterwards.
“It would have been outrageous had Birmingham won that game - absolutely disgusting,” he said.
Roeder was probably less dramatic and more analytical when he added: “I think Alex is feeling rather fortunate that he has got a point.”
“A point is okay,” McLeish said. “We scored against the run of play but in the end a draw was probably fair. I am left a bit disappointed about the gilt-edged chances we had at the end.
“I was looking for a reaction after last Tuesday (the Carling Cup defeat at Southampton) and I thought it was a positive response. I was pleased with bits of it.
“The players worked hard and the endeavour was magnificent, and we looked more compact. Norwich were on top of the first half but the second half was much, much better for us. We were able to bring Phillips into play and Bent did well when he came on.
“I really believed we could come here and win but I also knew it would be very tough. The manner in which we surrendered two points was galling for me. To lose that goal straight after half time was ludicrous and criminal. We told them to be ready, alert and alive for the first ten minutes of the second half because Norwich would be coming out of the traps but what happened next was very poor for the aspirations our club has. Certainly for the prizes that are at stake.
“Then to have not won it with the chances we had at the end I feel a little bit aggrieved we didn’t take all three.”
So, is McLeish happy with a point? The above would suggest he still isn’t sure.
Goals: Blues: Larsson (40); Norwich: Russell (46).
Norwich: Marshall, Otsemobor, Kennedy, Stefanovic, Bertrand, Pattison (Croft 68), Clingan, Fotheringham, Hoolahan, Lupoli (Cureton 59), Russell. Subs Not Used: Nelson, Koroma, Archibald-Henville.
Booked: Kennedy, Russell.
Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Parnaby, Martin Taylor, Ridgewell, Murphy, Larsson, Agustien (McSheffrey 69), Carsley, Owusu-Abeyie (Bent 46), McFadden, Phillips. Subs Not Used: Doyle, O'Connor, Jaidi.
Ref: Jon Moss (W Yorkshire).