Wolves wasted a gilt-edged opportunity to escape the relegation zone – and a chance to beef up the Premier League's worst away record – when they failed to exploit the numerical advantage they enjoyed for 61 minutes following the dismissal of Birmingham's Craig Gardner.
Steven Fletcher's ninth goal of the season, an early penalty, gave 19th-placed Wolves hope of dragging Birmingham back into the dogfight at the bottom with a first top-flight victory at St Andrew's in 30 years. However, wretched defending soon allowed Sebastian Larsson to equalise, and although referee Kevin Friend ordered Gardner off two minutes later, the 11 men were unable to breach the resistance led by Roger Johnson and force so much as a save from Ben Foster.
Gardner's red card, for a second bookable offence, was the culmination of a combustible opening half-hour, contested at a pace neither team could sustain in a noonday sun tailor-made for mad dogs and Englishmen. Gardner arguably fulfilled both criteria yesterday, being cautioned once for over-reacting to a robust challenge by Jamie O'Hara and again for simulation after Jody Craddock slid in to the tackle.
Strangely enough, Wolves' manager Mick McCarthy sounded more sympathetic to Gardner than his Birmingham counterpart and fellow former centre-back Alex McLeish. "I do feel sorry for Craig Gardner because I don't think he's that type of player," said McCarthy. "We all know the rules but I just wish a few[(referees] would book the players who did it a bit more often, the ones that get up and wave an imaginary card."
McLeish, who said Gardner was "devastated", added matter-of factly: "Craig dived and he'd already got a booking, so he was treading on thin ice. But I think he did it to get out of the way – he'd just been hit on the edge of the box." The Birmingham manager was referring to a crude, high tackle by Richard Stearman which astonishingly went unpunished by Mr Friend.
McCarthy lamented a "missed opportunity", noting that Birmingham are adept at maintaining two banks of four and stating candidly that Wolves did not possess "what was necessary to break them down". He added: "Our position has deteriorated because another game has gone, but I still think it'll go the last day [when Blackburn visit Molineux]."
A more upbeat McLeish, having seen his side remain four points above the bottom three and maintain their superior goal difference, admitted his half-time pep talk boiled down to "if we can't win this game, don't lose it". The Scot continued: "The players' resilience and desire were magnificent."
One Birmingham player, the on-loan Tottenham winger David Bentley, did go missing, leaving the ground in what McLeish termed "a huff" after failing to make the bench. "I understand his disappointment but it's not something I'll lose sleep over," said his manager, who predicted Bentley would report for training today.
Wolves, who started like a team determined to atone for their abject capitulation at Stoke last Tuesday, needed an uncharacteristic dual lapse by Foster to get their noses in front. The England goalkeeper scuffed his low clearance to Matt Jarvis around 40 yards from goal on the Wolves left. The newly capped winger speared a pass to Stephen Ward, who needed no invitation to crash to the turf as Foster plunged at his feet. Fletcher placed the spot-kick to the keeper's right as he went the wrong way.
Birmingham, though, were also looking to redeem themselves after leaking eight goals at Liverpool and Chelsea. Larsson curled a free-kick against the bar after 16 minutes, and the theme of atonement continued with Foster's playmaking role when they drew level.
A booming kick from his hands seemed to invite a clearing header from Michael Mancienne, only for the on-loan Chelsea player to attempt to cushion the ball back to goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey. Larsson, anticipating the error, pounced on the loose ball and volleyed it beyond the advancing Wolves keeper.
Substitutes: Birmingham Beausejour 6 (Phillips, 31). Wolverhampton Hammill 5 (Stearman, h/t), Hunt (Jarvis, 68), Vokes (Ward, 83). Booked: Birmingham Foster, Gardner, Bowyer. Wolverhampton O'Hara, Craddock, Henry.
Sent off: Birmingham Gardner (29)
Man of match Johnson.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire)
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