Colchester United 1 Birmingham City 1

Back in August, the idea of Birmingham City being pleased with getting only a point at Colchester United would have been almost unthinkable.

After beating the U's on the first day of the season, Birmingham were soon top of the league, while Geraint Williams' newly-promoted club were languishing at the foot of the table, after losing their first four games.

Yet over the last six months, Colchester have actually picked up more points than Blues, most of them at Layer Road, where they clocked up ten wins on the trot between September and mid-January. So for Steve Bruce's men to become only the second team since mid-August to claim a draw in this corner of Essex was actually no small achievement.

One inspired FA Cup performance at Newcastle United apart, Blues have not impressed over the last weeks. Since beating Queens Park Rangers on Boxing Day, they have suffered three horror shows against Southend United, Ipswich, Town and Luton Town, two postponements, two changes of pitch and the distracting departure of Matthew Upson.

To go a goal down here when Kemal Izzet, younger brother of Muzzy, scored his first goal for almost two years seemed just about par for the course but that was when Blues showed they still have plenty of heart.

On came a clearly refreshed Nicklas Bendtner, for his first appearance in a month, to run Colchester ragged for the last half-hour while the much-missed Stephen Clemence claimed an even firmer control of the midfield. When Clemence himself bagged Blues' equaliser, the visitors got the very least they deserved.

Manager Bruce called his team "fantastic" and if that was going a little bit over the top, even from the man who used to refer to Emile Heskey as "magnificent" almost every week, there was still a lot of encouragement to be gained from that final half-hour.

"Geraint Williams gave us a great compliment by saying we were the best team that had been down here," said Bruce. "That's nice to hear but we needed that result and, make no mistake, there is still a long, long way to go.

"Derby, Preston and the Baggies have had great runs and we are possibly having our worst run but we look like we're coming out of it. It's going to go right to the wire as I expected.

"We now have a big game next week, at home to Stoke on Sunday and it's all to play for."

What also changed, compared to his team's lamentable efforts of Tuesday night against the division's bottom club Southend, was that Bruce had a few more men clearly prepared to play for him.

As ever, Clemence, one of four players brought back in, was top of that list. Despite Bruce admitting that his talisman was almost impossible to drop after he came back to galvanise a misfiring side in October, the Blues boss has still felt able to leave him out since New Year's Day.

He simply had to bring him back and, after admitting he was concerned that Clemence might not be 100 per cent fit, he is clearly here to stay.

"He was the best player on the park," said Bruce. "I've been wanting to put him back in, but I've always been wary that he picks up the odd hamstring injury and it's now hard to imagine us being without him in there for the

rest of the season."

Clemence's return, along with Fabrice Muamba in central midfield, was at the expense of Mehdi Nafti and Sebastian Larsson and there was another change, enforced by Upson's messy midweek departure.

Upson's final game in Blues' colours was not his best and having yet again banked way above market price for an outgoing player, this evidence suggested that he will prove no loss.

On top of Radhi Jahdi's impressive recall as Upson's replacement alongside an equally assured Martin Taylor at the back, there was also the shock call-up of Colin Doyle in goal. The Irishman's only previous games for Blues had been in the Carling Cup and his league debut at Cardiff in August. But, having been preferred to Maik Taylor for the first time, he gave a confident display, his handling proving up to the job on the two occasions he was seriously tested, once before the break by Jamie Cureton and then late on by home substitute Hogan Ephraim's first touch.

Once Clemence had headed home Gary McSheffrey's corner to level matters, though, there was only ever going to be one winning team and Blues had only themselves to blame for not doing so.

Bendtner made a big difference, although he seemed too intent on scoring headline-making wonder goals. But, as Taylor admitted: "It's a team with a lot of young lads, so we usually do well at the end of games and being able to bring on someone like Nicklas is a great card to have up your sleeve."

It means McSheffrey, Bendtner and Cameron Jerome, who helped bang in 16 goals in five games in the run-up to Christmas, are reunited. And, although that is bad news for new signing Rowan Vine, it should prove good news for Blues.

"Nicklas hasn't played or trained for four or five weeks," said Bruce. "I thought half-an-hour was enough and he gave us another dimension."

Had Jerome kept his head with Blues' best chance late on, they could have had three points but Bruce was in forgiving mood.

"Of course he needs to improve on his finishing and be a bit more clinical," he said of the man called up last night as a replacement for the England Under-21 squad.

"He had an unbelievable chance to win us the match and he hasn't taken it but, although Cameron is young and naive and has got a lot to learn, he has not stopped running and he has created the chance because of his pace."

Scorers: Izzet (55) 1-0; Clemence (66) 1-1.

COLCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): Gerken; White, Mills, Brown, Barker; Duguid, Watson, Izzet (Ephraim, 78), Jackson; Cureton, Iwelumo. Subs: Davison (gk), Guy, Richards, McLeod.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Doyle; N'Gotty, Martin Taylor, Jaidi, Sadler; Johnson, Muamba (Larsson, 86), Clemence, McSheffrey; Vine (Bendtner, 60), Jerome (Campbell, 90). Subs: Maik Taylor (gk), Danns.
Referee: A Woolmer (Northamptonshire).
Bookings: Colchester — Mills (foul), Ephraim (foul).
Attendance: 5,918.

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