Stoke City 0 Birmingham City 0
The expressions of frustration were etched on their features as the Birmingham City players, increasingly wide-eyed and youthful, vacated the stadium and walked on to their team bus.
The goalless draw was a point gained but it felt like two points dropped. It was easy to feel their frustration; playing against Stoke is rarely fun.
But this, alas, is the reality of the Coca-Cola Championship. High winds, hasty football, empty seats and no goals. There would have been one and perhaps a victory for Birmingham, had Mikael Forssell scored from a penalty in the second half, but this would have been harsh on Stoke. A draw was a fair reflection of this lifeless match.
More important than the result was the Birmingham performance, which did little to inspire the visiting supporters and gave the impression that a swift return to the Premiership will require hard work, drastic improvement and, perhaps, the acquisition of more players.
Perhaps it is churlish to criticise a team that has begun with seven points from three matches - they are still unbeaten - but only the most biased fan would suggest that the team look comfortable.
Steve Bruce, as honest a manager as there is, knows that improvement is necessary. "It was hard work, especially in the first half, but in the second half we put David Dunn on up the pitch and tried to create something," Bruce said.
"The younger lads will learn from that because, again, we had five lads under the age of 21 out there. We will get better. We will have to be. But we stuck at it against a team who were well-organised, disciplined and hard-working and we are pleased that we have come away with something."
Pleased? To judge by the mood of the Birmingham players afterwards, you would think that they had lost rather than drawn.
Still, there was much about which Bruce can be pleased. This might be a transitional period for his team - and transitional periods are not usually pleasant - but Birmingham seem to be mastering the art of picking up points without fulfilling their potential.
Once the new players gel and the younger players learn the unique requirements of Championship football, Birmingham will have few problems in justifying their status as favourites for promotion.
How different it would have been had Forssell's penalty not been saved by Steve Simonsen. It was a rare chance for Birmingham and it came after Fabrice Muamba was fouled inside the penalty area by David Brammer.
For once, Forssell did not seem confident and his shot to the goalkeeper's right was easily saved. Bruce did not see the incident; he had turned away and was surprised to hear the cheers of the Stoke supporters that greeted the save.
Surprisingly, Simonsen was given the man-of-the-match award, a ridiculous decision given that Birmingham had otherwise done nothing else to cause him problems.
For the most part, this was a turgid midfield battle. Only when Dunn and, later, Stephen Clemence emerged as substitutes did Birmingham look composed. Prior to that, their best players had been defenders, with Mat Sadler looking confident at left-back.
Stoke created two chances of note and, on each occasion, Maik Taylor was on hand to save. The Northern Ireland international goalkeeper tipped aside a good shot from Peter Sweeney and smothered a close-range effort from Vincent Pericard Taylor had hitherto been well protected by Bruno N'Gotty and Olivier Tebily, the central defenders, who relished the opportunity to face Stoke's oversized strikers.
It is easy to see why Bruce is favouring the younger players. His more experienced players last season, the so-called superstars, failed miserably and took the club down.
And yet, it was still a surprise to see the likes of Dunn and Clemence on the substitutes' bench. Injuries notwithstanding, Dunn is surely the most creative player outside the Premiership.
As for Clemence, there can be no player more adept in the Championship at dictating the pace of play. Such composure was lacking until his arrival, as a substitute in the 84th minute, by which time Birmingham seemed happy to play out time for a point.
The pace of the match was Birmingham's problem. The faster the match, the better it was for Stoke.
The presence of Dunn and Clemence at the start of the action ould have put a different complexion on the match and probably given Birmingham more possession and, therefore, more goalscoring chances.
As it was, Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, was lamenting the scoreline. "We were disappointed we weren't winning at half-time," he said.
"We had enough possession and enough play. We just lacked maybe a little bit of quality in the final third but if we'd scored, we would have gone on and won the game comfortably."
The barometer of the Birmingham performance was the reaction of their supporters. A popular song during the match, when Birmingham seemed unable to keep the ball, was: "Brucie, Brucie, sort it out..."
And, at the final whistle, not all the Birmingham fans were cheering their players off the pitch. By contrast, the Stoke supporters cheered their own players off the field, as if this point against the Champion-ship favourites was a good result. Despite the expressions of the Birmingham players, this result will feel better in six months than it does today.
You have to grind out results in this league and, on this occasion, Birmingham did just that. It was not pretty but, then, little about the Coca-Cola Championship is.
STOKE CITY (4-4-2): Simonsen; Hoefkens, Duberry, Hill, Dickinson; Chadwick (Paterson, 89), Brammer, Russell, Sweeney; Sidibe, Pericard. Substitutes: Sigurdsson, Pulis, Harper, Duggan.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Tebily, N'Gotty, Sadler; Larsson (Dunn, 54), Muamba (Danns, 69), Johnson, Nafti; Bendtner, Forssell (Clemence, 84). Substitutes: Doyle, Martin, Taylor. Referee: Richard Beeby (Northamptonshire).
Bookings: Stoke - Chadwick, Hill (fouls); Birmingham - Tebily (foul).
Birmingham man of the match: Mat Sadler - stable at left back.