Birmingham City 1 Ipswich Town 1
BOTH teams ran out familiar with the refrain of Singing the Blues blasting out from the St Andrew's Tannoy and there was little to separate them for the ensuing 90 minutes. A point each allowed these perennial Premiership wannabes to move up a place apiece.
Birmingham, reclaiming fifth spot, had beaten Ipswich in their two previous encounters but this time George Burley's team, moving up to second, deserved at least the draw that enabled them to extend the country's best unbeaten sequence to 18 league games.
Tony Mowbray, Ipswich's veteran central defender, will not forget this meaty tussle in a hurry. After diving full length to head into his own net, he helped lay on David Johnson's equaliser in first-half stoppage time.
Only the First Division's leaders Charlton are in better current form and from the moment the team sheets arrived to announce that Trevor Francis, the Birmingham manager, had switched to 3-5-2 to counteract Ipswich's tried-and-trusted formation, a draw looked the favourite result. Indeed, only Charlton and Wolves of the division's top eight managed to avoid drawing this weekend.
"Birmingham showed us a lot of respect by changing their formation, basically just to mark us, to stop us playing," said Burley, the Ipswich manager. "But our players are sitting in the dressing room disappointed not to have got all three points and that's a measure of the standards the lads have set themselves, because when you look at the fixture list Birmingham away is one of the toughest."
Ipswich were opened up in the 17th minute. Martin Grainger's astute through pass invited Dele Adebola to strike his shot from an acute angle, and though Richard Wright parried well, Michael Clegg gave away possession.
Simon Charlton whipped over a devilish low centre and Mowbray, who had also scored a spectacular own goal at Crystal Palace earlier this season, headed in at the near post.
But the visitors responded well and Jamie Clapham, after one controlling touch, delivered a swerving 25-yarder which smacked against the post.
Ipswich equalised when, from Wayne Brown's long free-kick, Mowbray towered above everyone to head down to the back post where Johnson volleyed his season's 16th goal. The Jamaican striker, with a smart near-post header from Clegg's right-wing centre, came closest to winning the game seven minutes from time as Ipswich dominated second-half possession.
"In terms of passing and possession, Ipswich were the better team," said Francis, "but then I could have told you that before the game. We've played better but a draw was the right result."