Birmingham City 2 Ipswich Town 2: Lee plays up role as former Villan but Blues steal point

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The Independent Football

As a former Aston Villa player, Alan Lee was always likely to turn the air blue at Birmingham. He did not disappoint, scoring for Ipswich and having running feuds with Bruno N'Gotty and a referee's assistant. So it was almost a surprise when he passed Steve Bruce in a corridor at St Andrew's without provoking a post-match fracas.

In fact, the Birmingham manager addressed his team's tormentor as "Al" (the familiarity may stem from the fact that Lee is a Portman Road colleague of Bruce's son, Alex) and sought clarification about the exact nature of the offence that had earned N'Gotty a red card as the Galway-born striker celebrated Ipswich's 2-1 lead.

Lee explained matter-of-factly that he had been kicked. Bruce smiled, shook his head and said that in the circumstances - coming from behind with a stopgap defence and 10 men - he had to be pleased with a point. "It was quite incredible to get away with it," he said.

Getting away with it was not on Birmingham's agenda before the game. They had started as Championship leaders, but their indiscipline and Ipswich's growing confidence under their new manager, Jim Magilton, meant a point was the most they deserved.

Bruce has presided over drastic changes since relegation, 19 players leaving and nine arriving. Birmingham have lost the flashes of high quality provided by, say, Jermaine Pennant or Kenny Cunningham, yet gained in resilience, unity and commitment. They had "run to the moon and back", the manager said with a novel turn of phrase.

During the close season Bruce consulted fellow managers about what it took for a demoted team to win promotion. Only seven of 39 clubs had achieved the feat since the Premiership started. "They all reckoned the biggest thing is getting a good start to lift the doom and gloom," he said. "If you don't, the vultures start circling, fans get disgruntled, understandably, and you're under severe pressure."

There was no evidence here, however, that Birmingham might prove capable of breaking away from the pack, like Reading and Sheffield United last autumn. Indeed, if they do not stem the tide of sendings-off - N'Gotty's is their third of the season - their squad depth could be tested by suspensions.

Ipswich were the more fluid. They led through Lee - watched by his national manager, Steve Staunton - and again with a deflected shot from the impressive Simon Walton. A goalkeeping spill gifted the first equaliser to D J Campbell before David Dunn's clinical shooting ensured parity in the closing minutes.

Magilton's team hardly came flying out of the blocks this season; they lost the first three. But the eloquent Northern Irishman worked the loan system shrewdly and already looks capable of developing a team in their finest traditions.

Bruce praised them as the first visitors to play two up front. One of the pair, the ubiquitous Lee, spoke tellingly of the improvement since a "truly awful" display at Leicester, the belief they can figure in the promotion race and about the mate who is now the manager.

"Having played with Jim, we all wondered what it would be like calling him "gaffer'," he said. "The gaffer was always someone who could be your best friend but also give you the biggest rollicking. That's how it's going. It's a very happy dressing-room and that's an important thing."

Goals: Lee (49) 0-1; Campbell (74) 1-1; Walton (78) 1-2; Dunn (86) 2-2.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Johnson, Jaidi (Martin Taylor, 44), N'Gotty, Larsson; Danns, Dunn, Nafti (Kilkenny, 69), McSheffrey; Jerome (Forssell, 62), Campbell. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Muamba.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Price; Sito, Naylor, De Vos, Harding; Williams (Currie, h-t), Walton (Bowditch, 90), Legwinski, Noble; Macken (Clarke, 80), Lee. Substitutes not used: Supple (gk), Barron.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Birmingham Larsson. Ipswich Walton, Sito. Sent off: Birmingham N'Gotty.

Man of the match: Walton.

Attendance: 20,841.

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