Fulham 0 Birmingham City 0
There is cause for hope and optimism at the beginning of every new season.
The sun is invariably out, it?s warm and the joys of summer mask the darker realities of the winter months.
Every fan privately, no matter what they say publicly, hopes and dreams that this is the year when their side comes good.
And for a time the majority are allowed to carry on dreaming, some longer than others.
Birmingham City fans will have dreamt of a European spot or a top-ten finish. They would be wise to put aside those dreams and face up to a reality normally associated with the long dark nights of February. Mid- table mediocrity.
The terminal nature of the draw at Craven Cottage and the average performance does not bode well for either clubs? coming season.
Maybe it was the effect of the wintry conditions. Cold, wet and with floodlights on from the start, the weather was not that normally associated with the middle of August. Even if this is England.
Passes were over- hit, under-hit, and mis-hit for most of the afternoon. Rustiness is one thing, but both sides looked as they could do with another two weeks of pre-season practice.
The rustiness was not confined to the players. Having already booked Sylvain Legwinski for a clumsy challenge late in the first half, referee Rob Styles should have sent the Fulham midfielder off for scything down Julian Gray moments later. He didn?t.
It summed up the nature of the contest that the first real effort on either goal didn?t come until the stroke of half time.
After a first half of taking long-range pot shots at Blues keeper Maik Taylor and seeing moves break down because of poor passing, Fulham finally created an opening.
Stead Malbranque and Luis Boa Morte were at the heart of the move, breaking quickly from deep Malbranque sent Boa Morte clear. The Fulham skipper saw his first effort saved by Taylor and his follow-up deflected onto the crossbar.
For Birmingham?s part, their attacking options were limited to Emile Heskey. Heskey is a mass of contradictions and not a little frustrating. There are days when he performs like the dominating England striker he has proved he can be.
Then there are days like Saturday when he plays as if football is an entirely alien concept to him.
Unfortunately for everyone watching, Blues? main plan of attack against Fulham consisted of thumping long balls in Heskey?s general direction.
They weren?t helped by having to play a half-fit Walter Pandiani alongside. The striker?s protracted transfer saga deprived him of a preseason, and it showed.
There is a belief, misguided though it is, that Birmingham are more of an attack-minded side this season.
If that means having two wingers, then they have that. Gray and Jermaine Pennant played on the wing, but their delivery was poor, especially at set-pieces where attacking positions were often turned into a mad scramble to defend the counter-attack.
There is a lack of creativity in the side and you get the impression that if the thumpitforwards approach fails, Blues have little else on which to fall back.
Steve Bruce, though, makes no apologies for the one-dimensional approach of his side.
It is a tactic that has served the manager well since he arrived at St Andrew?s. A top-ten place built upon a solid defence and few goals, scored or conceded, may not be exciting but it keeps the club at the right end of the table.
And in Matthew Upson and Kenny Cunningham, Bruce has two players strong enough to cope with most forward lines.
Fulham, who had the attacking intentions if not the ability to finish it off, were only marginally better. That they failed to convert a host of chances had as much to do with their own profligacy as with the solidness of the City defensive wall.
For all that the game did pick up slightly in the second half.
Fulham?s Brian McBride had a headed ?goal? disallowed for offside when he had no need to be and Gray created a chance for the visitors, slipping past Zat Knight, only to fluff his lines and fire the ball wide of the far post.
The introduction of Mikael Forssell 20 minutes from the end did give Blues a bit of zip. And it was Forssell who finally had Blues? first shot on target with ten minutes left.
The striker wriggled past the Fulham defence only to have his shot deflected and be comfortably saved by Tony Warner. Forssell created a second chance for Clinton Morrison seconds from the end, but again Warner was equal to it.
So it was error-prone, ugly, and a poor start to the season as far as entertainment goes. Hope may turn to grudging acceptance for Blues fans sooner rather than later.
But a point is a point, one made all the more satisfying for having been won in such unsatisfying circumstances.
And at least Blues fans have some cause for optimism. Whatever happens, next Saturday?s game against Manchester City cannot possibly be any worse.