Sides play-out scrappy second-city derby
Birmingham were on the wrong end of more penalty controversy as they earned a share of the spoils in the derby clash at Aston Villa. Alex McLeish's side had been beaten by a controversial spot-kick in the corresponding fixture last season.
This time Villa skipper Nigel Reo-Coker appeared to control the ball with his arm inside the box just before half-time - but the visitors' penalty appeals were rejected by referee Howard Webb.
Birmingham had the consolation of ending a run of six successive defeats against their local rivals. But this was a game lacking in quality and will not remain long in the memory.
The midfield was overcrowded with both sides only employing one out and out striker in Emile Heskey and Nikola Zigic. Villa seemed to rely mainly on trying to find Heskey with a direct approach and Ashley Young was a peripheral figure for long periods.
They finished the stronger of the two teams but have now gone three league games without a goal and it would have been harsh on Birmingham to end up with nothing.
Sebastian Larsson and Stephen Carr got forward to good effect down the right flank for City but Zigic failed to make an impression. Former England U-20 skipper Ciaran Clark operated in an unaccustomed midfield role just in front of the Villa back four.
Villa were the first to settle and a shortish back pass from Liam Ridgewell left Ben Foster having to react quickly to clear from from Heskey. But the first half chance fell to Craig Gardner whose first time shot in the box was goal-bound but blocked by Villa defender James Collins.
Villa looked the more composed on the ball in the early stages. A skidding pass into the box from Ashley Young only just eluded the run of Heskey as it ran through to Foster. Gardner became the first player to be yellow carded by Webb after 12 minutes for a lunge at Reo-Coker who reacted angrily.
Villa keeper Brad Friedel got his body behind a curling shot from Keith Fahey from the edge of the box. Foster was relieved that when his clearance was charged down by Heskey it flew out of play for a goal-kick rather than into the gaping net, after another under-hit back pass from Ridgewell.
Fahey managed to bring down a deep cross from Larsson although his overhead kick was comfortably deal with by Friedel. Birmingham had strong appeals for a penalty rejected after 38 minutes when the ball appeared to hit the lower arm of Reo-Coker but they were waved away by Webb. Zigic became the second City player to be yellow carded a minute later after he caught Collins when leading with his arm.
Friedel had to be alert to gather a low 25 yard drive from Gardner which gathered pace as it zipped off the surface. It was 56 minutes before Foster made his first meaningful save of the game, parrying away a low dipping attempt by Reo-Coker from outside the box.
Houllier made his first change after 58 minutes with Steve Sidwell replaced by Barry Bannan. Collins made a superb block at full stretch to block a shot from Gardner. At the other end Roger Johnson got in a crucial challenge on Heskey.
Blues defender Scott Dann was booked for bringing down Clark. Then Reo-Coker was yellow carded after appearing to kick out at Gardner after being fouled. Foster parried away a Bannan drive after good play by Heskey.
Clark headed just wide after substitute John Carew had turned the ball back across the box and he needed treatment after being caught by Foster.
Ashley Young clipped the outside of a post with a rising drive as Villa searched in vain for a winner but Zigic could have won the game when he headed wide from Larsson's free-kick.