Given the hero for City
Goalkeeper Shay Given produced a superb display to earn Manchester City a point that their below-par performance barely deserved against Birmingham City at St. Andrews. The former Newcastle United player made a string of fine saves, the highlight a second-half penalty stop to deny James McFadden.
It was a fourth successive draw in the Barclays Premier League for Mark Hughes' side, who missed out on the chance to move into the top four. But Hughes, who celebrated his 46th birthday today, knows City will have to show a massive improvement if they are to sustain their challenge.
His expensive bunch of players never came to terms with the swirling wind and a fired-up Birmingham team exuding confidence after last week's win over Sunderland. The Eastlands side missed the threat up front of the injured Emmanuel Adebayor and struggled to break down a defence in which centre-backs Roger Johnson and Scott Dann were rock-solid performers.
The visitors also failed to come to grips with midfield, where Barry Ferguson was a key performer - before being sent off in injury-time for a second bookable offence - while up front the pace of Christian Benitez always kept them on their toes.
Unsurprisingly, Gareth Barry was booed by the home fans every time he touched the ball, after his 12-year association with Aston Villa. The England midfielder, in front of Fabio Capello, was caught napping in possession early on by Ferguson, but his cross-shot drifted wide.
Tests for Given
In the ninth minute, Benitez came close to securing the lead. His low 20-yard drive took a deflection off Vincent Kompany and crashed against Given's left-hand post. Benitez caused plenty of early problems and Given made an excellent block on the edge of his box to deny the Ecuador international the opening goal.
City tried to retaliate and Maik Taylor, replacing on-loan City man Joe Hart in goal, was unable to cling on to a fierce drive from Wright-Phillips. But Stephen Carr made the clearance. Birmingham looked the more dangerous, and Given was forced to tip over a swerving McFadden drive after being found in space by Benitez.
Ferguson became the first player to be yellow-carded after 27 minutes, when blocking off a touchline run from Craig Bellamy. Taylor blocked a point-blank-range effort from Roque Santa Cruz after good play by Carlos Tevez and Wright-Phillips down the right flank.
Sebastian Larsson was incensed when brought down in full flight by Nigel De Jong, but the Dutch midfielder escaped a booking. Referee Mike Dean came across to the dugout and spoke to Birmingham assistant manager Roy Aitken, before allowing play to continue.
Given again excelled when saving a fierce attempt from Bowyer, before Dann was yellow-carded in first-half injury-time for a challenge on Tevez. Wayne Bridge was booked after kicking the ball away, as the visitors continued to look below their best.
Alex McLeish's side had a golden chance to take the lead after 56 minutes when De Jong handled the ball in an aerial challenge with Larsson and conceded a penalty. But Given was again his side's saviour as he dived away to his left to keep out McFadden's spot-kick. McFadden's frustration at failing to score boiled over as he was yellow-carded for chopping down De Jong.
Hughes made his first substitution just after the hour when he brought on Stephen Ireland in place of De Jong. Then McLeish took off McFadden and replaced him with Keith Fahey. Birmingham were still the more threatening and Cameron Jerome was just wide with a header from Larsson's centre.
Santa Cruz earned a booking for pulling back Fahey before he was replaced by Martin Petrov. There was a rare threat to the Birmingham goal when Taylor tipped over a Tevez cross-like shot as Birmingham edged further away from the bottom three.
Ferguson earned his red card after knocking the ball out of Pablo Zabaleta's hands as he attempted to take an injury-time throw.