Steve Bruce is pursuing Gary McSheffrey like a love-sick man chasing a former girlfriend.

On this occasion, it is appropriate behaviour, for the Birmingham City manager is desperate for the Coventry City winger - or a player like him.

Birmingham's attacking shortcomings were obvious last Saturday when they drew 0-0 at Stoke City and never looked like scoring, not even when they earned a penalty. There was something inevitable about Mikael Forssell's miss.

Bruce has made four inquiries for McSheffrey and four times received the same answer. "Gary is not for sale," Micky Adams, the Coventry manager, keeps saying. It could even became the phrase on his telephone answering machine.

But Bruce has thicker skin than most men. He refuses to draw a line under the matter - "there are still a couple of weeks until the transfer deadline" - and he will keep trying in the hope that Adams will buckle.

Birmingham's problems are obvious. They are short of creativity in midfield and the departure of Jermaine Pennant, who is playing Champions' League football with Liverpool, has been painful.

Birmingham looked onedimensional against Stoke, unsure of whether to play at a fast tempo - which failed in the first half - or in a more composed manner. Either way, there is nothing to suggest that they are coherent.

That is not a criticism of the players or, indeed, of the manager. Bruce has done well to sell the so-called "super-stars" and replace them with younger, fresher, more enthusiastic players.

But the lack of a winger to replace Pennant is a cause for concern. Birmingham have the money and the desire but Coventry are, rightly, looking to keep McSheffrey to boost their own promotion prospects.

Forssell, whose penalty in the second half last Saturday was saved by Steve Simonsen, has already emphasised the need for Birmingham to close the gap between the midfield and the strikers.

For much of the time, Forssell cut a forlorn figure as the match became a midfield struggle.

He did not look as if he was having fun and he was substituted in the 84th minute, replaced by Stephen Clemence.

To be fair, a goalless draw away to Stoke is a decent result and will stand Birmingham in good stead this season.

The bad news is that they have not looked convincing in any of their three matches, although a return of seven points from three matches augurs well for when the team do play well.

Quite when that happens is a matter for conjecture. It will come sooner rather than later if Bruce can persuade Coventry to sell McSheffrey but they would be foolish to sell him to their West Midlands rivals for anything less than a ridiculous fee.

Bruce will go back to Coventry City with another offer. The answer is likely to be the same but at least Birmingham are proving that they are ambitious and serious about reclaiming their lost horizon. n Frustrated Wales manager John Toshack has added his name to the list of footballing people surprised that West Bromwich Albion midfielder Jason Koumas has not yet become a Cardiff City player.

After confirming that it is lack of action which has kept Koumas out of Wales' plans both for tonight's friendly with Bulgaria at Swansea and probably now also next month's Euro 2008 qualifier against the Czech Republic, Toshack said: "When we named the squad a fortnight ago, we were led to believe he would have his future resolved the following day.

"But now his inclusion for the game against the Czechs would have to be considered very, very doubtful."