Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Birmingham City 1
By tradition, local derbies don’t often live up to expectations. The often all-consuming pre-match hype fails to deliver when pretentions turn to reality.
So throw in the added ingredient of a top of the table affair and this contest had all the hallmarks of a huge anti-climax.
True to form, this clash kicked-off in first gear. By the end, it was motoring in fifth with passengers from both sides on the edge of their seats.
Both camps will claim they did enough to win, but a draw was probably the fairest outcome.
From a sluggish start, chances were arriving thick and fast by the end.
Blues had a real let-off as early as the 14th minute when central defender Liam Ridgewell appeared to mistime Stephen Ward’s throw-in.
Ridgewell had his heart in his mouth as the ball somehow bounced up off his shoulder and ballooned onto the post with goalkeeper Maik Taylor rooted to the spot.
At the opposite end, Wolves had a heartstopping moment when James McFadden picked out Marcus Bent with a precise pass.
The Blues marksman accurately lobbed over advancing goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, but somehow defender Richard Stearman got back to hook the ball off the line.
Blues probably edged the first half. They effectively snuffed out the potent strike partnership of Chris Iwelumo and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to such an extent, that Ieading marksman Iwelumo was replaced by Sam Vokes just after the hour.
But then Blues boss Alex McLeish had pulled out a tactical masterstroke at half-time by replacing predicted dangerman Kevin Phillips with the pace of Cameron Jerome.
McLeish claimed afterward that Phillips reported feeling tired at the break and thus saw no point in prolonging the situation. The switch worked a treat as Jerome struck within three minutes of his arrival.
He chased a ball from substitute Medhi Nafti and surprisingly easily shrugged off the attentions of Stearman and central defensive partner Michael Mancienne to slot past Hennessey.
At the same time, Blues problems in defence were beginning to unfold.
Nafti had replaced the injured Nicky Hunt on the stroke of half-time.
It meant Blues had no recognised right back and Wolves knew it.
They swapped dangerman Michael Kightly to the left flank with the intention of attacking the out of position Nafti at every opportunity.
Nafti clearly didn’t relish his unaccustomed role and eventually McLeish put him out
of his misery by moving David Murphy into right back, while Nafti reverted to his more familiar midfield position.
Yet it was from exactly where Blues feared that Wolves engineered their equaliser on 74 minutes.
Left back Stephen Ward, who made several surging runs down the the flank, stormed through to the bye-line before cutting the ball back for Ebanks-Blake to slot home with a first time shot.
The tempo increased. Ridgewell bundled the ball home for Blues from a Nafti free kick only to have the goal ruled out for handball.
Taylor then pulled off a superb save to stop Vokes snatching the winner for Wolves with two minutes remaining.
Then Ridgewell saved Blues right at the death with a last-ditch tackle to keep out the marauding Kightly.
Scorers: Jerome (48) 0-1, Ebanks-Blake (74) 1-1.
Wolves (4-4-2): Hennessey; Foley, Mancienne, Stearman, Ward; Kightly, Jones (Edwards, 72), Henry, Gray (Keogh, 56); Ebanks-Blake, Iwelumo (Vokes, 62). Substitutes: Collins, Higgs.
Blues (4-4-2): Taylor; Hunt (Nafti, h/t), Jaidi, Ridgewell, Queudrue; McFadden, Carsley, Quashie, Murphy; Phillips (Jerome, h/t), Bent (Quincy, 90). Substitutes: Doyle, Agustien.
Referee: Paul Taylor (Hertfordshire)
Bookings: Wolves – Stearman, Iwelumo; Blues – Carsley, Jerome, Quashie, Nafti.