Sheffield United 1 Birmingham City 1
Howard Kendall's arrival at Bramall Lane was heralded by Sheffield United's new chairman, Mike McDonald, as the start of a new golden era. Three consecutive draws is not exactly the Midas Touch, but at least Kendall has shown that he knows something about added value.
One of his first deals was to sell the Blades' leading scorer, Nathan Blake, to Bolton in exchange for Mark Patterson and about pounds 1m. Patterson scored on his debut at Stoke, and his second goal yesterday meant that United's biggest crowd of the season, drawn to Kendall's first home game in charge, did not go home with Christmas spirit dampened.
But a golden future implies Premiership football and neither United nor the equally ambitious Birmingham showed much evidence that they were ready for that sort of company. Both sides put too many passes astray, while the Blades' continuing fondness for the long ball showed that old habits learned under Dave Bassett die hard. Birmingham's lack of a winger meant Kevin Francis, their 6ft 7in striker, was starved of service in the air.
In the event, his height played no part in Birmingham's goal. Ian Richardson found Steve Claridge, who drew both goalkeeper Alan Kelly and Francis' marker, Scott Fitzgerald, before slipping the ball between them for Francis to tap in from two yards.
Had the Blades been sharper, they would not have found themselves chasing the game. David White had a shot smothered by Ian Bennett, David Tuttle narrowly failed to turn in White's flick-on from Mitch Ward's corner, and Richardson's back-header brought the best save of the match out of his own goalkeeper, but his relief was short-lived. From another corner, he could clear only as far as Patterson, whose header from the edge of the penalty area flew into the top right hand corner.
"They were the better side in the first half," Barry Fry, Birmingham's manager, said. "We were lucky to go in front and they deserved their equaliser."
Fry, who has used 33 different players in his side this season, knows when to ring the changes. He brought on substitute Louie Donowa at half- time, and had his finishing matched his pace and penetration, Birmingham might have stolen it. He shot across the face of goal and also into the side-netting when in good positions. In fact, Fitzgerald came just as close when he almost turned one of Donowa's crosses into his own net.
In the end, it was United who came closest to victory, Ward hitting the bar and Phil Starbuck seeing his header from the rebound saved by Bennett.
Kendall, although delighted by a three-match unbeaten start, said: "In our position we must begin picking up all three points."
Fry said: "I was disappointed with the way we played. We will never win the championship with the side that was out there today."
Look out for more team changes at St Andrew's.
Goals: Francis (27) 0-1; Patterson (42) 1-1.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Rogers, Tuttle, Fitzgerald, Nilsen; Ward, Gannon (Heath, 73), Patterson, Hodges; Starbuck (Foran, 86), White. Substitutes not used: Tracey (gk).
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Forsyth, Edwards, Daish, Frain; Hunt, Hill (Donowa, h-t), Richardson (Rushfeldt, 60), Preece; Claridge, Francis (Castle, 60).
Referee: I Cruikshanks (Hartlepool).
Bookings: Birmingham: Hunt.
Man of the Match: Patterson.