Blues frozen out by fearless Ward

Birmingham City 1 Nottingham Forest 1
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The Independent Football

Three superb second-half saves by the Forest goalkeeper Darren Ward denied Steve Bruce a fourth straight win, but defeat would have been unfair on either side given the treacherous nature of the frozen St Andrew's pitch.

Ward's success in blocking out Tommy Mooney and Michael Johnson at point-blank range and beating away a fierce volley by Jeff Kenna came as a particular relief to Paul Hart, the Forest manager, who was decidedly unimpressed with referee David Pugh's decision to let the match go ahead when large areas of the surface were covered with ice.

"Somebody is going to have to advise me about how that game was allowed to take place," Hart said afterwards. "I've played on some bad pitches in the past and I thought those days were over." Bruce's acknowledgement that it was "tricky" somewhat understated matters.

The conditions were certainly an embarrassment to the home club, who had promised, according to Hart, that the playing area would be perfect after their new £80,000 hot-air balloon cover had been deployed. But with temperatures reported to have dipped to minus 11 celsius overnight, even those measures seemed to have failed and had the kick-off time been anything other than noon – as dictated by television – it is difficult to imagine it could have survived.

In the event, Hart's team might have won, indeed should have, in the Forest manager's opinion. He was referring to the best moment of the contest from either side, when the full-back Jim Brennan started and finished a slick move involving Stern John and Jack Lester but only managed to shoot wide when Lester's final ball presented him with most of Ian Bennett's goal to aim at from little more than 12 yards out.

John, the Trinidadian striker whose run of form is at last paying back the £1.5m David Platt spent on him two years ago, had earlier scored with a neat header from the influential Nicky Summerbee's corner, having also failed narrowly to score from a Brennan cross.

An example which will doubtless illustrate some forthcoming teach-in by Bruce on how not to defend a set-piece, John's 14th goal of the season cancelled out Mooney's ninth, put away crisply after Ward had been unable to cut out a cross by Geoff Horsfield in only the fourth minute.

But if Forest believed they could have taken all the points, so did the home side. Even before Ward came to Forest's rescue during a furious second-half onslaught, there had been two chances that Brazilian striker Marcelo might feasibly have put away on a more trustworthy surface, while the veteran defender Steve Vickers, having scored at Stockport County on Saturday, could have made more use of two opportunities with his head.

However, 10 points from 12 over the holiday games matches Bruce's target for his new side, taking them up to the edge of the play-off zone, a point behind West Bromwich Albion in sixth place.

"I've told them it is up to them now whether this becomes a springboard for promotion," he said, although he confessed to being worried about a growing list of injuries, to which defender Martin Grainger may be a new addition.

"If he is sidelined we will be down to the bare bones, with 10 players either injured or suspended," Bruce added.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Kenna, Vickers, Burrows, Grainger (M Johnson, 66); McCarthy (A Johnson, 57), Hyde (Bak, 84), O'Connor, Mooney; Marcelo, Horsfield. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Eaden.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Ward; Scimeca, Hjelde, Vaughan, Brennan; Summerbee, Jenas, Williams, Prutton; John, Lester. Substitutes not used: D Johnson, Roche (gk), Bopp, Thompson, Gray.

Referee: D Pugh (Merseyside).

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