Everton 0 Birmingham City 0: Bruce's charges provide little belief for the faithful

Two points lost put Birmingham back in the mire
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The Independent Online

On another day, Birmingham would have seen this as a good point, especially since it was only their 11th won away from home all season, but in the context of the battle to avoid relegation, it was two too few. Their fans cheered West Bromwich Albion's comprehensive defeat at Newcastle but Portsmouth's late winner against Sunderland at Fratton Park meant Birmingham's joy of having three clubs below them in the Premiership table was short-lived.

Steve Bruce's side had revelled in that feeling since the substitute Mikael Forssell's goal three minutes from time beat Blackburn last Wednesday evening. They rarely threatened a goal at any time yesterday and can count themselves lucky that Everton, without a victory in six, could make none of their chances count. The hosts lost Tim Cahill to a first-half injury but should have won handily.

Bruce, who has handled Birmingham's traumatic season with dignity and humour, greeted the day's events with customary sang-froid. "The horrible thing is that staying up is not in our hands now," Bruce said. "But in our circumstances, coming to Everton and getting a point, you have to be pleased. Emile Heskey and Jermaine Pennant were clearly not right and quite a few others were running on empty. It caught up with us.

"But, back in January, when we had 12 points, if you had said we'd still be in the race with two games left, I would have taken it. We're still alive and there will be more twists before it is over."

Birmingham's football was understandably tentative, Everton's much more relaxed. All that was missing was the means to put the ball in the net. It must worry Bruce that the Birmingham defence was so easily pulled apart. A more capable side than Everton would have had the match sewn up before half-time. Instead, David Moyes's team have gone seven hours without a goal.

Phil Neville was the first to be handed an open invitation. He dragged his left-foot shot wide without a challenge in sight. Then Leon Osman, likewise allowed an open space, similarly missed the target. And that was before Maik Taylor, in the Birmingham goal, had palmed another Osman effort over the bar.

Had Birmingham gone a goal behind when James Beattie thrashed the ball into the net 10 minutes into the second half, they could hardly have complained, having allowed the striker to position himself for an easy follow-up when Maik Taylor could only parry a shot from Osman. But they escaped again, this time saved by an offside flag.

After the first 30 minutes, Birmingham barely mustered an attack. There were battlers in their ranks, none more tireless than Damien Johnson but creativity was thin on the ground.

Maik Taylor was in action again before the contest entered its final quarter, smothering a low shot from David Weir, but a spark was desperately needed. Both managers at least tried to provide it, Moyes sending on Duncan Ferguson, Bruce gambling with a third attacker as Heskey, who had passed a late fitness test, gave way, Forssell and DJ Campbell coming on.

But aside from a couple of penalty claims, neither supported with much conviction on the field, the game fizzled out.

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