Birmingham City failed to gain the fruits for their labour at Selhurst Park on a Shrove Tuesday night that turned out to be as flat as a pancake for the visitors.
Despite playing against a Crystal Palace side who were at a numerical disadvantage for the final 14 minutes due to Nick Carle’s red-card, Birmingham failed to find that all-important winner to re-spark a belief that promotion can be theirs.
After an evenly-matched first-half, Alex McLeish’s side upped a gear after the interval but try as they might, this fixture seemed destined to be a stalemate.
Following the defeat at Coventry City on Saturday, McLeish had vowed to shuffle his pack and the Scotsman did just that for the trip to South London.
Radhi Jaidi replaced Martin Taylor in defence, short-term signing Stephen Carr made his debut at right-back allowing Sebastian Larsson to push up into his familiar right-midfield position. Meanwhile Lee Carsley’s neck strain ruled him out which resulted in Keith Fahey starting in central midfield while Honduran striker Carlos Costly made his first Birmingham start in place of Cameron Jerome.
It proved to be a relatively even yet unentertaining first-half on a fine playing surface at Selhurst Park. While it may not have arrived in seconds as it did at the Ricoh Arena, the visitors were given an early scare, albeit a less damaging one, in the third minute of the match.
John Oster’s lofted ball into the box saw Alan Lee beat his marker but luckily Carr was in the right place to stamp out the early danger.
Then right from Maik Taylor’s goal-kick, Liam Ridgewell’s throughball from the back sliced open the Palace defence, Marcus Bent’s first touch was poor but he still managed to find Larsson in space on the right-side of the box. However the Sweden international disappointingly volleyed his effort straight back to his supplier.
Costly, obviously eager to impress, frustratingly found himself regularly strolling off-side as he attempted to make the most of one-time Palace loanee Scott Sinclair’s tricky runs.
Birmingham’s most clear cut goal opportunity of the first-half came in the 28th minute. Larsson’s smart delivery was met by the rising head of Bent but the striker fired just wide of Julian Speroni’s right post.
As the interval approached, the home side had faint claims for a penalty. Former Birmingham midfielder Neil Danns charged into the box while fending off the obstruction of Fahey. However referee Paul Taylor rightfully allowed play to continue, a decision that caused the official to be greeted with jeers from the home crowd as he trudged off for the half-time break.
Birmingham should have been two goals to the better within five second-half minutes after Lee Bowyer and Costly were both guilty of glaring misses from ten yards.
Firstly, in the 48th minute, Bowyer was given a second bit of the cherry after a stumble from Jose Fonte but wastefully fired wide of the left post.
Then it was Costly’s turn to direct an effort into the identical wayward area after the Central American had bared down on goal unopposed two minutes later.
Crystal Palace’s hopes weren’t helped by the loss of their livewire winger Victor Moses to a hamstring injury in the 54th minute although debutant Carr had dealt with his threat well.
However Palace pressed and almost edged in front moments later, low Oster cross caused panic in Birmingham’s six-yard box before a chance fell to Rui Fonte whose volley cannoned off the head of Jaidi.
It may not be a tradition to hand out cards on Shrove Tuesday but that is exactly what the referee decided to do as the game drifted into the final 15 minutes. Having shown yellow cards to Jose Fonte and Alan Lee, Mr Taylor then produced a straight red for Carle following his two-footed challenge on substitute Jerome.
A comedy of errors between Jaidi and Ridgewell almost gifted Palace a winner in the 85th minute but fortunately it was matched by an equally hilarious mix-up between Lee Hills and Lee.
As the fourth official flashed up five minutes of injury time, David Murphy’s high cross was met by the diving header of Fahey at the far post but the opportunity bounced across the face-of-goal. Then as Birmingham pressed, Jose Fonte’s last-ditch tackle halted Bowyer in the area following Fahey’s fine throughball before Jerome’s head missed a Hameur Bouazza cross by centimetres deep into stoppage time.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2): Speroni, Clyne, Lawrence, J.Fonte, Hill, Oster (Ertl 88), Danns, Carle, Moses (Hills 54), R.Fonte (Butterfield 78), Lee. Subs not used: Kuqi, Pinney.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor, Carr, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Murphy, Larsson (Johnson 83), Fahey, Bowyer, Sinclair (Bouazza 66), Bent, Costly (Jerome 59). Subs not used: Lyness, Traore.
Referee: .Paul Taylor (Hertfordshire).
Bookings: Palace – Jose Fonte (foul), Lee (dissent); Blues – Johnson, Bowyer (both fouls).
Sending-off: Crystal Palace – Nick Carle (serious foul play).
Birmingham man of the match: Lee Bowyer – while the home crowd would have bestowed the referee with this tag, Bowyer was as industrious as ever for Birmingham.