It was an incident that lasted a split-second and, for Clinton Morrison, it could have been the difference between a return to the Birmingham City starting line-up and continued frustration on the substitutes' bench.

It was late in the match at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday that the Republic of Ireland striker found himself with a chance to secure the three Premiership points for Birmingham.

He was inside the penalty area, there was no time to think, and there were no Tottenham defenders close enough to spoil the moment.

"The ball was headed across the face of the goal and I have hit it sweet enough," Morrison said. "I am thinking 'it's going in'. But I think it grazed the post and went the other side. Disappointment or what! I cannot believe it went wide, you know. You feel pain because you want it to hit the net."

Morrison's failure to score meant that Birmingham could only draw 1-1 against Tottenham, a result that diminished their hopes of finishing in a European position, but still represented something of an achievement after a tepid display.

The surprise was that Morrison, playing the best football of his career, went into the match with a growing reputation as an accomplished international striker.

He scored two goals in two matches for the Republic of Ireland prior to that and has a better strike-rate in World Cup qualifying matches than in Premiership fixtures.

For now, however, Morrison is Birmingham's thirdchoice striker and he is worried that the gap between third choice and second choice is growing.

Emile Heskey and Walter Pandiani occupy the striking positions at present and Morrison, ever the realist, knows that he cannot really complain - even if his emergence as a 67th-minute substitute against Tottenham improved Birmingham's performance.

"It is difficult when you go away, you play international football, and then you come back to Birmingham and are not playing," Morrison said. "And you do get disappointed, but the team have been doing well and winning so I have have to wait for my chance.

"It is hard for me but I have to accept that it is about the team. The manager was pleased with a point against Tottenham but in the end it could have been three points and I am disappointed. Had I scored, it could have put me in contention for a starting place but I have just got to carry on working hard now.

"I just want to play football, that is all. I have been away with Ireland and done well and scored goals and I just wanted to come here and play.

"It is all about getting chances and taking them. A chance came against Tottenham but it just wasn't to be. The manager [Steve Bruce] is good and he wants me to stay, so hopefully I can stay. I just wanted to reward him with a goal, so missing against Tottenham just adds to my disappointment."

Interestingly, Pandiani has been playing with an injury for the past six weeks and, against Tottenham, was short of his best. That is sure to add to Morrison's frustration, but the Ireland international is not about to criticise Steve Bruce or a team-mate.

Perhaps the person in the Birmingham squad who knows Morrison best is Kenny Cunningham. The pair play together for the Republic and moved to St Andrew's during that memorable summer of 2002, just after the World Cup.

"I am sure that Clinton will tell you that his goalspergame ratio is up there with the very best in an Ireland jersey," Cunningham said. "It is great for us [Ireland] and he has scored some very important goals for us in this qualifying campaign.

"Hopefully that will continue but I am sure he would like to translate that ratio into his club football. His overall contribution to the team should not be underestimated. He has not been as prolific as one or two people might have thought.

"But the players alongside him in the team realise the contribution that he makes, the work-load he gets through and any centre- forward alongside him will tell you they appreciate the type of player he is, prepared to work the channels time and time again, play with his back to goal.

"He will miss opportunities but he will pick himself up and go again. He is not afraid to miss the target and, against Tottenham, could have stolen us the game.

"That is the way it is with centre-forwards. You have got to keep getting into those goalscoring positions. Clinton is very strong mentally and he will keep going.

"He is an extrovert sort of character but that is part of his character and you would not want to take that away from him. He would not be the same sort of player.

"You certainly know when he is around the changing room and you need that good mix in the changing room. You need that different type of personality, different characters on and off the pitch if you are going to form a successful side and have a good spirit amongst the players.

"He has been a big asset to the club since he has been here. It is just a shame that chance against Tottenham did not go in."

For once, however, the result seemed to be overshadowed by the presence of Jermaine Pennant, the Birmingham winger, who was playing his first match since being released from prison.

Pennant, who made the starting line-up after Stephen Clemence failed a fitness test, performed admirably under the circumstances and seems set to sign a permanent contract with Blues once his loan spell from Arsenal ends next month.

"Jermaine did well," Morrison said. "Obviously he was going to tire through not training for a month but he handled the pressure well and is a big enough lad to get on with it."

With a week of full training to come, Pennant should be match-fit by the time that Blues visit Chelsea on Saturday. Inevitably, it will be Birmingham's toughest match of the season but there is hope.

Chelsea will have played Bayern Munich in the Uefa Champions League and may suffer from fatigue.

"If we play with the spirit we played with against Tottenham, and obviously play a bit better football, we have got a chance of beating Chelsea," Morrison said. "But it will be difficult.

"You think some teams have lost before they go there because you see the rare talent they have got on show and the players they have. But we have got good players in our team. We should just go there and play."