Mills' solid start as Birmingham grind out point

Nottingham Forest 0 Birmingham City 0
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The Independent Online

An attritional draw between two of the Midlands' promotion hopefuls did neither any favours at the City Ground last night. Victory would have lifted Forest into the First Division play-off zone, while a win for Birmingham would have taken them to within two points of the top six, yet there were precious few moments when the barren scoreline looked threatened.

Forest, fielding one of their youngest-ever teams, could take satisfaction from improving the division's best defensive record, much as Birmingham no doubt deemed an away point acceptable after a torrid 48 hours. Both, though, have much to do to turn themselves into contenders for the Premiership.

Birmingham were under the temporary stewardship of Mick Mills following the departure of Trevor Francis on Monday. Mills went into the game having collected only four per cent of the votes from supporters who were polled on their preference for the manager's job, trailing in sixth in a field led by George Graham (36 per cent), Harry Redknapp (29) and Steve Bruce (17).

There was little evidence that the Birmingham players were mourning Francis's exit. They gave as good as they got (or as bad: the shooting by both sides was wayward in the extreme, exemplified by wasted free-kicks by Chris Bart-Williams and Martin Grainger).

Their captain, Martin O'Connor, gave a different slant to the concept of leading by example, when he became embroiled in a 16th-minute altercation with Alan Rogers, the Forest midfielder, near the corner flag. For a moment they grappled on the turf like Messrs Haystacks and Daddy, but the referee restored order with only yellow card for each man.

Despite some neat build-up play, particularly by Forest, the first shot on target did not come until first-half stoppage time. Bart-Williams, who was being taunted by the Birmingham fans for having had the temerity to turn them down, found Nico Vaesen equal to his free-kick from 25 yards.

The second half was only marginally less eventful than the first, the only difference being that Birmingham now had the edge territorially. Grainger finally found his range from a set-piece, but the finishing remained on the wild side, as typified by Paul Furlong's shot high over Forest's bar.

Whereas Birmingham have personnel who are proven promotion candidates Forest are hard up and heavily dependent on the fabled ability of their manager, Paul Hart, to coax the best out of youthful talent. They may also struggle to hold on to the influential Bart-Williams, who is coveted by Leicester.

The Forest captain claimed a 65th-minute penalty after falling under Michael Johnson's challenge. However, the referee, barely two yards away, could not have been better placed to shake his head and prolong the stalemate.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Ward; Louis-Jean, Hjelde, Scimeca, Brennan; Prutton, Williams, Bart-Williams, Rogers (Bopp, 69); John (Westcarr, 75), D Johnson (Reid, 75). Substitutes not used: Edwards, Roche (gk).

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Vaesen; Gill, Purse, M Johnson, Grainger; Eaden (Sonner, 10), O'Connor, Luntala, Woodhouse; Horsfield (Furlong, 29), Marcelo. Substitutes not used: Holdsworth, Burrows, Bennett (gk).

Referee: D Crick (Surrey).

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