Reading 1 Birmingham City 1
It is hard to criticise Steve Coppell, the Reading manager, for fielding reserve teams in FA Cup-ties this season. After all, they have defeated West Bromwich Albion after a replay in the third round and have now taken Birmingham City to a replay in the fourth.
What next? The youth team? No, just the reserves again, at St Andrew's on Tuesday February 7. "I think it would be fair to say that was Birmingham's strongest line-up in the circumstances," Coppell said. "The core of the [Reading] side will remain the same for the replay."
Fortunately, Birmingham can only improve upon this performance, which should make them favourites to secure a place in the fifth round.
David Dunn was their best player and Chris Sutton, another inspirational signing by manager Steve Bruce, gave the Reading defenders a torrid time. But this was another Blues display that raised more questions than answers.
Alas for Birmingham, it was Reading who came out of this match smelling of roses. Graham Stack, Chris Makin, John Oster, Stephen Hunt, Leroy Lita and goalscorer Shane Long all started in place of regular team members such as Marcus Hahne-mann, Nicky Shorey, Glen Little, Bobby Convey, Dave Kitson and Kevin Doyle.
With Birmingham fighting for their Barclays Premier-ship lives and Coppell determined not to let up on the Coca-Cola Championship front, a reprise at St Andrew's was not what either side had wanted.
Coppell insisted it was time for replays to be phased out, with future FA Cup ties to be decided on the night via extra-time and penalties if necessary as in the Carling Cup.
"It is a bit pointless for the game to be a draw," Coppell said. "It doesn't suit anybody's agenda. Deciding games on the day I must admit is more exciting and something that must be looked at."
Long had fired Reading ahead midway through the first half after James Harper had set him up but Coppell admitted he had feared the young Irishman might panic at the vital moment.
"The ball seemed to take an eternity to come to him and because he is so young I was thinking 'I hope you don't cock it up'," Coppell said. "But he rifled it in the bottom corner. It was a clinical, professional finish."
Birmingham finished on level terms, thanks to a fine strike by Dunn, who had been one of three substitutes sent on by Bruce just before the hour mark.
Dunn was by far the most eye-catching performer on a day when Reading midfield pair Harper and Steve Sid-well had impressed, although highly-rated Royals centre-back Ibrahima Sonko did not relish playing against Sutton.
The most interesting aspect of the day came in the post-match press conference when Coppell did his best to rule himself out of contention to be the next head coach of England.
Coppell, who has developed his own brand of deadpan humour, insisted he had been genuinely non-plussed to see his name quoted as a more likely candidate than Peter Taylor, England's Under-21 coach, or Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, by the bookies.
"Am I flattered that people are betting on me? No. It's silly money. No-one should be linking me with anything," Coppell said.
Still, we should have been talking about the football, and it is a testimony to a poor match that we are not.