West Bromwich Albion 1 Southampton 1
To find proof that these are strange times in the Coca-Cola Championship, look no farther than The Hawthorns.
It was 5pm. The West Bromwich Albion supporters were filing out of the stadium. The bloke on the public address system was reading out the results from the other matches in the Coca-Cola Championship.
"Preston North End 0, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1," he confirmed, in deadpan tones. Cue cheers and enthusiasm. It is not often that a victory for Wolves is met with approval among Albion fans. Actually, the cheer was for the Preston defeat, which ensured that Albion climbed to second place in the table — if only for 21 hours.
It made the loss of two points easier to bear. Tony Mowbray, the Albion manager, saw it as a point gained and, given the strength of the opposition, he is probably right.
"It is a big point for us," Mowbray said. "It has been a massive, massive effort in the past two months to get into this position and in the last 20 minutes there were some signs of fatigue.
"You also have to be respectful of the opposition and we played against a decent side so this was a fair result. There were spells when we were on top, especially at the start of the second half, but Southampton came on strong in the final 15 or 20 minutes so we will take the point."
But it could easily have been a defeat. Not only did Southampton match Albion for much of the contest, they had reason to be critical of Mike Pike, the referee, for two surprising decisions.
In the first half, when Kenwyne Jones broke clear on goal, the Southampton striker was brought down by Curtis Davies.
George Burley, the Southampton manager, said that Davies should have been sent off, although the Albion captain suggested that the tackle was fair. He had, he said, touched the ball before the man. Still, Davies was shown the yellow card and Southampton made little impression with the free kick.
And then, in the second half, Dean Kiely appeared to clear the ball with his arm outside the penalty when Southampton went in search of a second goal. The Albion goalkeeper claimed that the ball struck his shoulder, which concurred with Pike's assessment of the incident.
Burley, bristling, was not in agreement with that decision, either.
"I thought the referee got the two big decisions wrong and they weren't difficult decisions," Burley said. "The ref should have sent Curtis Davies off for his foul on Kenwyne Jones in the first half, and then their keeper Dean Kiely handled outside the area late on.
"The ref said he thought the ball hit Kiely's shoulder but there was no way that could have happened. I have seen it on video and the ref has at least said to me that if he has made a mistake he will hold his hands up."
Even if one gives Burley the benefit of the doubt, the draw here, between the two most attractive teams in the Championship, was the only appropriate result.
The pace of the match was often breathtaking and the quality of football, on the pitch that had been disfigured by the snow and ice of the previous few days, was to be commended.
The teams took turns to put on an exhibition but it was Southampton, with their impressive movement up front and their inevitable use of Gareth Bale on the left flank, who took the lead in the 18th minute.
The pass by John Viafara to Grzegorz Rasiak, through the right channel, was superlative. Rasiak, Southampton's leading scorer, crossed from the byline for Jones to tap home from close range.
Albion, fatigued and uncomfortable with Southampton's movement off the ball, equalised just before half time.
With Southampton losing their composure inside the penalty area, Jason Koumas found space to shoot. He did not make the most of the opportunity but the ball fell kindly to Kevin Phillips who scored with a low shot from six yards. It was his 13th goal of the season.
But Albion were not as convincing going forward as they had been in previous matches. Diomansy Kamara, probably the best player in the division during January, was well shackled while Richard Chaplow was less assertive in midfield.
To some, Kiely in goal was Albion's best player, particularly after he made two important saves to keep Southampton at bay. To others, Robert Koren was Albion's best player. His workrate is more machine than human while his simple passing does much to ensure that Albion are effective in possession.
But this was not vintage Albion and, by the end, they were relieved to secure the point.
The draw was a sign of how much Albion have improved since November. They have maintained their momentum and still have all the attributes necessary to gain promotion on an automatic basis.
In some respects, given the circumstances, this draw had more to commend it than many of their victories.
Scorers: Jones (18), 0-1; Phillips (45), 1-1.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Kiely; McShane, Clement, Curtis Davies, Robinson; Gera (Carter, 85), Koren, Chaplow, Koumas; Phillips (Ellington, 64), Kamara (MacDonald, 77). Substitutes: Zuberbuhler, Albrechtsen.
SOUTHAMPTON (4-4-2): Davis; Makin, Lundekvam, Baird, Skacel; Surman, Viafara, Wright, Bale; Jones, Rasiak (Saganowski, 61). Substitutes: Bialkowski, Ostlund, Wright-Phillips, Licka.
Referee: Mike Pike (Cumbria).
Bookings: Albion — Davies, Robinson, Koren (fouls).