The rich men of Abu Dhabi who have funded Manchester City's assault on the elite of English football preferred to attend the Formula One grand prix in their home country yesterday to an afternoon watching their new investment toil in the Midlands. For that alone, Mark Hughes could be grateful: this was not the work of a £200m team.
When Sheikh Mansour checks the Premier League table this morning he will see his club in fourth place positioned up among the royalty of English football – but no-one could argue that City are surging up the division. Rather, they have benefited from the indifferent performances of some of those above them and with four consecutive draws in the league they might be doing so much better.
If Hughes wanted a crumb of comfort on this, his 46th birthday, then he would find it in Shay Given who was the decisive player for the away side. It was Given who saved James McFadden's penalty in the 56th minute, the pick of many important stops he made, and there is little doubt that the Irish goalkeeper, who cost £8m in January, is currently the best value-for-money signing that City have made since the Abu Dhabi takeover.
Given had already stopped two efforts from Christian Benitez in the first half when he dived to his left to push away McFadden's penalty. "Shay is an outstanding goalkeeper and he has been his whole career," Hughes said.
"He has produced this throughout his career and we are very pleased to have him. At key moments in the match he allowed us to stay in it and ultimately take something from the game."
As for the rest of City's star cast, they will have to do better if they have pretensions of staying among the Champions League places come May. The list of teams with whom they have drawn their previous thre games – Aston Villa, Wigan and Fulham – do not constitute the most daunting opposition in the country. Without Emmanuel Adebayor, whose back injury kept him out the team, City looked flat and predictable in attack.
There was one complaint from Hughes that referee Mike Dean had failed to award Carlos Tevez a penalty when he tumbled over Sebastian Larsson's leg in the 85th minute but it was debatable to say the least. "We have looked at the tape and Carlos goes over the boy's leg in the box," Hughes said. "It is a penalty and Mike Dean thinks it's a drop ball. That maybe needs clarifying."
If Hughes' team were limited, that had much to do with the tenacity of Alex McLeish's side, who seem to have learned that it will be grim determination that keeps them in the division. A red card in injury-time for Barry Ferguson, earned for a second yellow card for a petulant handball, means that Birmingham will be without the Scot for the trip to Anfield next Monday. But that and McFadden's penalty miss was all McLeish had to complain about.
"My players came into the dressing room a little bit disappointed to not get three points," McLeish said. "I thought it was a very powerful performance from the players.
"They gave everything they had, it was just the final touch that let us down. With the win over Sunderland we have two games of great quality. The evidence [they can compete] is there – it should be planted in their minds."
In the directors' box, Birmingham's new owner Carson Yeung grimaced and despaired as his team tried and failed to beat Given. There were some impressive performances in his side, not least from Larsson and the two central defenders Roger Johnson and Scott Dann who dominated Roque Santa Cruz. Johnson took a ball in the windpipe at the end of the game but still picked himself up and came back on to see out the closing stages.
City have come a long way since the days when their idea of a big signing was a past-his-best Steve McManaman, who watched yesterday's game from the directors' box as a board member of Yeung's Grandtop holding company.
Yet they never really achieved any fluency yesterday and, despite Hughes' protestation that three of Manchester City's last four draws have now come away from home, something is currently missing.
Hughes claimed that his side's "flying start" to the season had brought with it some unreasonable expectation, although it would be fair to say that the £200m plays its part in that too.
"People expect us to win every game and that is not going to happen," Hughes said. "This was about knuckling down and getting something out the game. We know we didn't play as we are capable. It is a good lesson and we will be better in similar games."
Nigel de Jong was unfortunate to bring his hands down on top of the ball when he challenged with Larsson 10 minutes after the break to concede the penalty. "It probably was a penalty, Nigel had his hands a bit high," Given said. "Penalties are a bit of a lottery for goalkeepers but I went the right way. We are disappointed – these games we are looking to pick up three points."
Ferguson's second yellow came when he blocked a throw-in from Pablo Zabaleta in injury-time at the end of the game.
"Silly," said McLeish. "Barry came in afterwards and admitted he was daft. He had it in his mind that they were about to break up the park. He knows we will miss him at Liverpool."
As for Hughes, his team have Burnley at home on Saturday when there really will be no excuse for anything less than three points. The City chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak is expected to speak publicly about the club the week after that game and the last thing Hughes needs is to give him reason to discuss his manager and his future.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, McFadden (Fahey, 61); Jerome (Phillips, 87), Benitez. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), McSheffrey, Parnaby, Carsley, Vignal.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Given; Zabaleta; Kompany, Lescott, Bridge; Wright-Phillips, De Jong (Ireland, 60), Barry, Bellamy; Tevez, Santa Cruz (Petrov, 66). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Richards, Johnson, Sylvinho, Weiss.
Referee: M Dean (Cheshire)
Booked: Birmingham Ferguson, Dann, McFadden; Manchester City Bridge, Santa Cruz
Sent off: Birmingham Ferguson (90)
Man of the match: Larsson
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