There was none of the euphoria that marked Birmingham City's 2-0 victory against Liverpool at St Andrew's seven months before but, in one sense, this draw was just as impressive a result.

Liverpool arrived on Saturday as the European champions, they had not conceded a Premiership goal since May, and Birmingham were diminished by the loss of six players through injury or suspension. Auguries were not good.

And yet, at the end, it was hard to find a smile among the Birmingham players. The consensus among those who were wearing blue and white around St Andrew's was that this was emphatically two points dropped.

True, Liverpool will believe that they deserved to win, and their domination in the first half was such that Birmingham barely touched the ball. But when Birmingham stepped up the pace, they made Liverpool look vulnerable.

Luis GarcIa's goal for Liverpool in the 68th minute, coming after a fine move involving Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard, seemed to inspire Birmingham and it was not long before the home team found themselves in front.

The equaliser came in the 72nd minute when Stephen Warnock, the Liverpool left back, glanced the ball into his own goal after a teasing cross by Julian Gray.

The goal meant that only Chelsea had failed to concede a goal this season, although that record ended when Aston Villa scored at Stamford Bridge later in the afternoon.

Birmingham's second goal came when Walter Pandiani reacted first to the loose ball to score from close range after Jos> Reina, the Liverpool goalkeeper, fumbled a headed effort by Emile Heskey.

Liverpool were incensed at their own inability to deal with crosses from the right flank and they equalised in the 85th minute through a penalty by Djibril Ciss> after Neil Kilkenny handled a headed effort from Jamie Carragher that came back off the underside of the crossbar.

Kilkenny was

sent off before Ciss> scored, making it an uncomfortable final few minutes for


Not that Kilkenny should be blamed. He was making his

Premiership debut and, if he found the first half tough, he grew in confidence in the second and earned glowing praise from Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, who was enthused that a 19-year-old player should seem so mature.

"The handball was a natural reaction," Bruce said. "He will certainly remember his debut. He did well against, Steven Gerrard, one of the best midfield players in the world."

Bruce was less complimentary about the refereeing decision that indirectly led to Liverpool's equaliser. " The free-kick against Julian Gray was a joke decision," Bruce said. "Steven Gerrard fell over. Even Steven was embarrassed because it was a bad decision and it cost us." On the other hand, Gerrard was unfortunate in the first half when his left-footed shot from 22 yards struck the inside of the post, while Crouch should have won the game for Liverpool late on when he headed the ball over the crossbar from close range.

"Peter needed to be a couple of inches bigger," Gerrard said. In truth, however, Crouch would have scored had he jumped properly. At 6ft 7in, he does not make best use of his height - fortunately so, as far as Birmingham were concerned.

Rafael BenItez, the Liverpool manager, was wearing an expression that he seems to save for St Andrew's. He did not look happy.

"We had good chances to win the game and in the end it is two points lost for us," BenItez said. "In the first half we controlled the game. We created some opportunities and went ahead. We lost the advantage in the space of five minutes but after the penalty we had three real good chances to win."

Birmingham have taken 11 points out of their past seven matches against Liverpool. In the same matches, Liverpool have only taken seven points. Perhaps if Birmingham could

play Liverpool every week, they would have more chance of finishing in a European position.

Scorers: Luis GarcIa (68), 0-1; Warnock (72, own goal), 1-1; Pandiani (75), 2-1; Ciss> (85, penalty) 2-2. BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham; Pennant, Johnson, Kilkenny, Gray; Forssell (Pandiani, 73), Heskey (Tebily, 90). Substitutes not used: Martin Taylor, Lazaridis, Vaesen. LIVERPOOL (4-3-2-1): Reina; Josemi, Carragher, Hyypi?, Warnock; Gerrard, Hamann (Riise, 79), Alonso; Sinama Pongolle (Luis GarcIa, 60), Zenden (Ciss>, 68); Crouch. Substitutes not used: Finnan, Carson. Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Bookings: Birmingham - Clapham, Cunningham (fouls); Liverpool - Sinama Pongolle, Warnock (fouls), Luis GarcIa (dissent). Sending off: Kilkenny (unsportsman-like conduct).

Attendance: 27,733. Birmingham man of the match: Mario Melchiot - shaded it ahead of Jermaine Pennant because Melchiott's fine performance, which owed much to energy and intelligence, stretched to the full 90 minutes.