Stoke City 0 Birmingham City 0: Strength in depth offers Birmingham reasons to be cheerful

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The Independent Football

It is the names absent from the team sheet, rather than the performances of those on it, that are giving Birmingham City hope.

As encouragement for the marathon that is the Championship season, their fans need only to divert their gaze away from this Saturday lunchtime slog and on to the division's squad lists. Upson, Jerome, Jaidi, Kilkenny, Campbell and Gray were not in the 16 for the second of the season's countless Midlands derbies, the depth of Steve Bruce's playing staff being further underlined by the presence of David Dunn, Stephen Clemence, Martin Taylor and the lively newcomer Neil Danns on the bench.

Dunn, easing back following two and a half years of injury torment, achieved more in 35 minutes in a creative sense than any of his colleagues managed in 90. Even 35 League appearances from him this season would carry Birmingham much closer to an immediate Premiership return.

With Clemence also making an impact, Bruce will not yet be ready to place his faith solely in the youngsters who arrived as part of a major summer overhaul aimed at establishing a fresher mood.

No-nonsense Stoke City afforded Arsenal's on-loan trio of Sebastian Larsson, Fabrice Muamba and Nicklas Bendtner little chance to shine and the manager, seeking a replacement for Jermaine Pennant, could do worse than look at the left-winger Peter Sweeney, who provided much-needed quality and forced Maik Taylor into one of the game's few saves.

Tony Pulis, reappointed as manager after the end of several years of Icelandic rule in the Potteries, has taken quick steps to cure the home-phobia that blighted Johan Boskamp's Stoke.

Four points out of six at the Britannia Stadium, with no goals conceded, add up to a sound start, consolidated by a good Steve Simonsen save from a 60th-minute Mikael Forssell penalty on a day when Stoke were the likelier winners.

"I'd obviously seen Forssell's penalty at Sunderland in midweek, but had it in my head to dive to my right anyway," the goalkeeper said. "Apart from that, there was absolutely nothing for me to do. It was the easiest man of the match bubbly I've ever won!"

The occasion should not be allowed to pass without another rant at what live TV is doing to attendances. After only 17,410 turned up at Molineux on Friday night, Stoke suffered a drop of 7,666 from their convincing win over Derby County four days earlier.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Hoefkens, Hill, Duberry, Dickinson; Chadwick (Paterson, 90), Brammer, Russell, Sweeney; Sidibe, Pericard. Substitutes not used: Duggan (gk), Sigurdsson, Pulis, Harper.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Tebily, N'Gotty, Sadler; Johnson, Nafti, Muamba (Danns, 69), Larsson (Dunn, 54); Forssell (Clemence, 84), Bendtner. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Martin Taylor.

Referee: R Beeby (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Stoke City Chadwick, Hill; Birmingham City Tebily.

Man of the match: Sweeney.

Attendance: 12,347.

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