Stoke 0 Birmingham City 0: Simonsen keeps Blues at arm's length

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The Independent Football

This was the first in a series of 10 Midlands derbies for Birmingham City that will go a long way to deciding whether they can justify their pre-season billing as Championship favourites.

And if yesterday's match against a Stoke City side who expended plenty of honest energy but offered precious little in the way of class is anything to go by, a draw is a fair bet for the remaining nine as well.

Birmingham patently have better players - and more of them - than virtually any other side in this division but they can expect to encounter plenty of opponents like Stoke.

If they anticipate collecting their points in batches of three rather than one then they will have to offer much more than this going forward. With the likes of Cameron Jerome, DJ Campbell, Mikael Forssell, Nicklas Bendtner and David Dunn to call on, they certainly have the personnel to do so.

Had Forssell converted a second-half penalty then Birmingham would have left the Britannia Stadium with more than they deserved. As it was, Steve Simonsen dived to his right to save and a goalless draw represented a fair reflection of a distinctly average game.

"It was hard work," admitted Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, who has seen 13 players leave the club over the summer. "The young players will learn from that. We have to get better and we will get better."

Birmingham's exotic midfielders found the pace and staccato rhythm of a frenetic derby hard to acclimatise to. Too often, as the ball sailed over their heads from the boot of Maik Taylor en route to, more often than not, the head of Michael Duberry, the likes of Mehdi Nafti, Fabrice Muamba and Sebastian Larsson were mere onlookers.

Stoke were the better team for long periods, with Vincent Pericard and Mamady Sidibe full of honest running. But too often they performed their best work outside the penalty area. Forssell's chance to win the game arrived just before the hour after Dave Brammer had tripped Muamba. The penalty at least re-energised the game and Stoke's best chance fell to the ever-willing Sidibe, whose poked shot from close range at least drew a save from Taylor.

The only other save he had to make was from Peter Sweeney's late free-kick, and it did little to alter the feeling that this was a match both sides valued not losing more than winning. "We just lacked that little bit of quality in the final third," said Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager. "It's very hard for us to compete with some of these sides and when we get so much possession we've got to create more chances."

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