Birmingham City 1 Wolves 1: Craddock boils Bruce's blood

Defender's controversial equaliser turns aspiring Blues off-colour
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The Independent Football

It took 89 minutes but this West Midlands derby finally moved from a low-key encounter to one that engaged the interest of players and supporters alike. Steve Bruce suggested the slothful feeling was down to the early kick-off and lack of alcoholic sustenance for the fans. The midday start meant it was cold too but, for a game that is supposed to arouse the passions, it was a curiously tepid affair.

Birmingham could have hauled in Cardiff at the top of the Championship with a win but they were their own worst enemy in failing to see off their local rivals. Appearing as if they felt they had done enough through Gary McSheffrey's first-half lob, they were stung late on. A barge on Sebastian Larsson by Gary Breen off the ball saw the Swede in pain and clutching his head, not that the referee Mark Halsey believed there was a head injury. "He's rolling around holding his head because he's injured his ankle," intoned Bruce, the Blues manager, ironically.

In the meantime the visitors had won a corner, and from Rohan Ricketts' delivery, Seyi Olofinjana flicked on and Jody Craddock headed in at the far post from six yards. Seething at the prospect of throwing away two points, Nicklas Bendtner then tapped the ball in, only for McSheffrey to be flagged for offside.

The Wolves goal won them only a point but it was celebrated as if it was the winner and with good reason. It also marked the end of two long runs. For the visitors it was their first goal in six away games, Mick McCarthy's men having lost their previous five matches without scoring. Meanwhile, it was the first goal that the Blues had conceded in seven League games.

Bruce felt his players had begun to rely overly on that defence ensuring the win that his strikers should have guaranteed. There were enough occasions to come the way of Bendtner, his fellow forward Cameron Jerome and others which, if converted, would have rendered Craddock's goal irrelevant.

"That should have been a consolation for them," Bruce said. "We can't expect to keep clean sheets. We should be more clinical. I was thinking 'are we going to rue those missed chances'?" The answer was yes.

Naturally, McCarthy was the more upbeat. He said he didn't see the crucial incident on the far side of the pitch but could understand Bruce's disappointment. Adding that the rule of kicking the ball out of play for an injured player, which Wolves did not do for Larsson, is commonly abused, he said: "I didn't see any blood or a broken nose." And McCarthy knows about broken noses.

It was after half an hour that McSheffrey scored the goal that the hosts deserved. Bendtner was out on the left and headed the ball on to the midfielder who took one look and chipped Matt Murray from the edge of the penalty area. Chances continued to fall the Blues' way and to be missed, leading to Bruce's feelings of creeping doubt. Just after the interval, Murray intervened from Bendtner and Jerome and then Stephen Clemence shot wide from 22 yards.

While they were shooting on sight, Wolves appeared unlikely to remedy the deficit. However, as is so often the way, it fell to virtually the most unlikely player to put matters level.

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