The worst game in football history ended goalless at St Andrews
Preamble They are the three words that any
excuse for specimen of masculinity dreads: "is that it?" The phrase is not, as you might fear, exclusive to scented boudoirs. It was chucked around willy nilly after last month's FA Cup third-round draw, which might just be the most underwhelming draw in the competition's history. Amid a phalanx of fixtures that could have had MEH stamped on their forehead, one local derby stands out, with revenge on the agenda: that's right, it's Birmingham v Wolves at St Andrews, with Birmingham keen to right the wrongs of 22 May 2011, when they were relegated and Wolves weren't.
Kick off is at 12.30pm.
Important question of the day Is Mick McCarthy a deceptively tender lover? (Don't worry, that link is safe for work, if not necessarily for your subconscious.)
Obligatory clip of Ronnie Radford. It'll always be the greatest moment in FA Cup history, won't it.
Team news The magic of the cup: the two teams have made 12 changes between them. On the plus side, one of the players coming in is Birmingham's farcically promising 17-year-old Nathan Redmond. Eggert Jonsson makes his Wolves debut.
Birmingham (4-3-3): Doyle; Spector, Davies, Ridgewell, Murphy, N'Daw, Gomis, Mutch; Elliott, Rooney, Redmond.
Subs: Butland, Caldwell, King, Beausejour, Fahey, Zigic, Reilly.
Wolverhampton: De Vries; Stearman, Johnson, Berra, Ward;
Kightly, Henry, Jonsson, Hunt; Ebanks-Blake, Doyle.
Subs: Hennessey, Elokobi, Edwards, Fletcher, Frimpong, Jarvis, Foley.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
There are thousands of empty seats at St Andrews. This is what they've done to the FA Cup. Finishing 17th is the new glory.
1 min After a minute's applause for Gary Ablett, Birmingham kick off from left to right. They are in blue; Wolves are in gold.
3 min A precis of all the excitement thus far:
4 min The first half-decent attack comes from Wolves. Ebanks-Blake finds Doyle in the box, back to goal, and he falls over.
5 min Stephen Hunt, who really is a busy little Hunt, scurries down the left wing for Wolves. The ball eventually breaks to Jonsson, who slaps it high and wide from 25 yards.
7 min Send me an email. Please. Like Lord Bono said, sometimes you can't make it through 90 minutes of Birmingham v Wolves on your own.
8 min In terms of urgency, this start has been barely distinguishable from a pre-season friendly. It's the FA Cup third round for eff's sake!
10 min Redmond hasn't really got on the ball yet, save one right-footed cross from the left.
12 min Elliott gives the ball away to Ebanks-Blake near the halfway line. Will that errant pass cost Birmingham? Will Wolves break devastatingly, needing just three touches and five seconds to score a counter-attacking goal of murderous efficiency? No. Ebanks-Blake blooters the ball down the line in the vague direction of Doyle, and Davies clears comfortably.
13 min N'Daw plays a good pass wide to Spector, who hoofs his cross straight into the breadbasket of Hunt.
15 min Birmingham win a free-kick down the left. It's curled into a dangerous area by the right-footed Elliott, and Stearman plays it safe by heading over his own bar. The corner comes to nothing.
16 min "Am pleased to see that France 4 has got the coverage of the FA Cup again – so far, I have learned that the French for 'kick and rush' is 'le kick and rush' – but the main excitement is whether they make presenter Lauren Luyat dress up as the Queen again for the final," says Phil Rush. "Really. He had a robe and a wig and a crown and everything. Beat that, Football Focus." In fairness, they could show Test Card F, soundtracked by a Kasabian cover of I Wanna Sex You Up by Color Me Badd, and it's probably beat Football Focus.
18 min The first half-chance of the game falls to Birmingham. Rooney links nicely down the left with Murphy, who swings in a bouncing cross towards the near post. Mutch, 12 yards out, clips a first-time half-volley well over the bar.
19 min "At the risk of straying into territory that might require one to break out the brain bleach, surely Mick McCarthy would be more of a no-nonsense, straight down the middle, bish-bash-bosh sort of lover?" says Ryan Dunne. "One can't really imagine him trying any continental, Berbatov-style tricks and flicks." You know what they say: never judge a lover by his cover. I suspect that whatever McCarthy doesn't know about sensual acts of love simply isn't worth knowing.
20 min Birmingham have control of midfield, where they have three against Wolves' two. Stearman goes right through Redmond near the halfway line and is lucky not to be booked.
21 min Wolves get their firs tcorner, down the left. It's swung deep by Kightly and headed over by the backpedalling Johnson on the six-yard box. "One greedy bastard" sing the Birmingham fans in Johnson's direction.
23 min "If Wembley are going to charge the prices they do (and they will) not many fans living outside London will be able to afford to attend the semis and the final, which rather takes the fun out of a cup run," says Gary Naylor. "Increasingly, I'm of the opinion that, of all the abominations wrought on the grand old Cup, Wembley semi-finals are the worst. (I suspect those responsible for that decision never pay for tickets, so just couldn't see the impact). Football needs a revolution now as much as it did 25 years ago." Even more so, I'd say.
24 min If the FA Cup wasn't compulsory, how many of the 92 league teams do you reckon would enter it? 10? 20?
26 min "If you're desperate for emails, as a Wolves fan since the good old bad old days of the mid-late 80s (destroying the old fourth and third divisions with Bull and Mutch) I could give you 5000 words on the glory of finishing 17th in the promised land of the Premiership compared to the innocent pleasures of having your hopes dashed repeatedly in a genuinely competitive Championship," says Neil Withers. "But I'm too busy enjoying this feast of football."
27 min If this game was a face I would punch it. It has been terrible. Kightly rams home the point by lofting a cross straight out of play.
28 min A good crossfield ball from N'Daw, probably the best player on the pitch thus far, is hopelessly miscontrolled by Spector.
29 min "Rob," says Mac Millings, "I've reviewed the sequels to Jonathan Wilson's 'Inverting the Pyramid'. That'll teach you to make such a pathetically desperate plea for emails."
30 min The ESPN commentators have been reduced to talking about chicken balti pies.
31 min They're still talking about chicken balti pies.
32 min Look what a google search on 'chicken balti pies' has turned up. The Observer: five years ahead of its time.
33 min A Birmingham corner on the left is only half cleared, and when it comes back in the keeper De Vries just gets to the ball before Rooney.
34 min Roger Johnson is in a lot of pain after an aerial challenge with Rooney. Johnson is clutching his right ankle frantically; he twisted it as he landed, and that looks like a ligament injury. His day is probably over.
35 min Johnson is being helped off the field – he's no longer in agony, but he is limping – and will be replaced by Kevin Foley. That's a bad blow for Wolves, as it looks like a ligament injury. Foley has gone to right back, with Stearman moving infield.
36 min "They don't get it, on the radio," says Steven Hughes. "They're nonplussed as to why St. Andrews isn't full. People aren't fools. If the clubs aren't going to take it seriously (12 changes) then why should people turn up to pay for some half-hearted theatre?" There's almost certainly no way back for the FA Cup, is there?
37 min Karl Henry shows the form that earned him a place in the England squad by passing the ball back to his keeper from inside the Birmingham half.
38 min A shot at goal! A real one! Ward comes infield from the left and pokes a pass to Ebanks-Blake, looking for a one-two. Instead Ebanks-Blake wriggles away from Davies and then toebungs the ball towards goal from 10 yards. It's straight at Doyle, who blocks with his legs, and the loose ball is hoofed away.
39 min Doyle roars onto a bouncing ball 20 yards from goal, and shanks it 20 yards wide.
40 min "French commentators mainly bitching about the weather in the north and being sniffy about the Stearman tackle - 'even in England, there are limits, surely?'" says Philippa Booth. "Hopefully things will pick up for Macclesfield v Bolton later." I'm MBMing that one, too. They gave me that instead of a Christmas bonus.
42 min A decent low shot from Redmond, 20 yards from goal, is saved by De Vries.
44 min Ward makes a good run down the left, zipping between Spector and Elliott, before his near-post cross is booted clear.
45 min "Is it cowardly to pray for half-time?" weeps Neil Withers.
Half time: Birmingham 0-0 Wolves See you in 10 minutes, if I haven't done a runner down York Way.
"England football MBMs often elicit laments on the sad state of the national side, and sometimes of the nation itself. Such comments came to mind when I encountered these lines in a Benjamin Black novel (set in 1950s Dublin, spoken by an American about the Irish): 'The things you accept, as if there was nothing to be done about anything … The quietness of everything. The way you go about in a cowed silence, not protesting, not complaining, not demanding that things should change or be fixed or made new.' Is this really England's self-image?" – Paul Taylor.
"One way to get the crowds back might to charge £10 for every seat for every
match in the third round, £15 in the fourth and so on up to £35 in the final.
That might get younger people going to the match too, because the average age of a football crowd is getting older and older. No chance of this happening of course" – Gary Naylor.
46 min Wolves kick off from left to right. "MAKE SOME NOISE FOR THE BOYS IN THE BLUE!!!!" screams tannoy man, to widespread silence.
47 min Doyle makes a good save from Ebanks-Blake, although he'd been flagged offside.
49 min A Birmingham substitution: Steven Caldwell replaces the injured Liam Ridgewell.
50 min Rooney is penalised for backing into Berra. The second half has been every bit as good as the first.
52 min "I'm sorry, but I just don't understand the surprise at just how desperately horrible this match is," says Rob Marriott, mistaking abject despair for surprise. "Yes, I know it's magical, wonderful third round day (which will hopefully be rather more fun later on), but this is a match between one side whose gaffer is known for putting out weakened sides and trying not to win matches, and another which is still bedevilled by the misery of having been run for four years by the most negative manager in British football. The pairing of these two is, quite simply, the worst thing that can ever happen in football, and the cup draw should be rigged in future to ensure it never happens again."
54 min A loose ball comes to Rooney, eight yards from goal, and his shot is blocked very well by Jonsson.
56 min I don't know what to say. I'm sorry. Nothing is happening. This game is a therapists' wildest dream.
58 min That should have been a goal for Wolves. A crisp move down the right ended with Hunt finding Kightly in all sorts of space. He drilled a low cross cleverly towards Ebanks-Blake, who was 15 yards out and had plenty of time because all the defenders' weight was going the wrong way. He should have scored, but wafted a sidefooted shot over the bar.
60 min "I am sorry for everything to do with this match, Smyth," says my colleague and Birmingham fan Tom Lutz. "I hope we can still be friends." We've only ever been colleagues, Lutz, nothing more.
63 min This is despicable. My colleague and friend James Dart has suggested a possible riff: the worst game you've ever seen. I remember a grisly piece of insomniabusting filth in 1996-97, Leeds 0-0 Blackburn, when Leeds were managed by George Graham. I reckon that might be top of the list, at least for the next 27 minutes.
64 min "In response to Rob Marriot: that would be the same 'negative' Alex McLeish who actually won a cup with Birmingham?" pudemups Ryan Dunne. "I'd say his attitude compares favourably with the happy-to-be-17th ethos that leads to crap cup games like this. Here in Scotland we take cup competitions seriously,and it's nice to get to hump some different diddy teams than the ones Rangers are used to from the league. Indeed, sometimes I wish they'd bring The Glasgow Cup back to give the Glorious Glasgow Rangers a chance of a Quadruple! :-)"
No smileys please, we're British.
66 min Wolves are starting to dominate possession, even if they are doing the cube root of eff all with it. Kightly's long-range is blocked.
67 min Doyle is taken down by the sliding Davies, 25 yards from goal, and is inevitably booked. The free-kick is slightly to the left of centre. Henry and Hunt are loitering...
68 min ... and Hunt almost scores with an imaginative effort. It was laid back a few yards to Hunt, who flipped it up in the air and then volleyed a few yards over the bar. The keeper had it covered but that was a decent effort, Le Tissieresque in fact.
69 min It's Hunt's last contribution, with Matt Jarvis replacing him. Birmingham bring on Jean Beausejour for Jordan Mutch.
73 min Elliott tries to find Rooney with a clipped pass over the top, but Davies covers well and heads clear.
74 min A rare moment of quality from the teenager Redmond. He loses Henry smartly in the centre circle and runs at Stearman, who backpedals to the edge of the box. Redmond's eventual shot is blocked, and Rooney's follow-up bobbles into Doyle's hands.
75 min Steven Fletcher comes on for Wolves, replacing Kevin Doyle I think.
76 min "Any two footballers who share a surname less alike than Karl and Thierry Henry?" says Gary Naylor. You haven't seen Arthur Bergkamp play, have you?
77 min Gomis picks up the ball in space, 25 yards from goal. The crowd implore him to shoot. He blooters the ball almost out of the ground.
78 min "It's 1am here in Melbourne and I'm mighty drunk: not on life mind, but on too much booze," hics Neill Brown. "I've tried to think of a witty and informative summation of the third round of the FA Cup but I can't. As for a suggestion as to how to give more incentive to teams competing; why not give the winners of each cup tie a gazillion pounds for each goal that's scored? The watching public can have its fun whilst the professionals can $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$."
79 min You know how all the great TV shows, like The Office and Fawlty Towers, leave you wanting more? Well we're 11 minutes away from another episode of this.
80 min A good chance for Birmingham. Elliott runs down the right and stands up a deep cross, beyond the far post. It comes to Beausejour, whose sidefooted volley is unconvincing and blocked by Jonsson. It wasn't going in anyway.
81 min "Johan and Jordi Cruyff," says Jon Wilde. "The John and Julian Lennon of the football." Harsh. Jordi was a decent player, I always thought.
82 min MAKE IT STOP.
83 min Birmingham bring on Keith Fahey for Guirane N'Daw, who had a decent game in front of the back four.
84 min Adam Rooney is booked for persistent fouling, or because Mike Dean needed to do something to keep himself awake.
85 min "Ápropos of nothing," says Nick Saberton, "I've got a cousin called Dan Vennegoor of Hesselink."
86 min A decent move from Wolves comes to an end when Jarvis is penalised for controlling the ball with his bicep.
87 min See 82 min.
88 min "Worst game I've ever seen?" says Phil Podolsky. "Both legs of Barcelona v Liverpool in the UEFA cup in 2001. It was decided by a penalty scored by some really old bloke whose name escapes me, and I'm usually rather good with names." Gary Pallister. Oh yes, that first leg at the Nou Camp was horrible.
89 min A load of the supporters are leaving. Normally we might berate fans for leaving early; today I can't work out why they waited so long.
90 min There will be four minutes of added torture.
90+1 min Redmond almost wins it in added time. A cross from the right wasn't cleared properly by Stearman, and came straight to Redmond on the edge of the box. He took a quick touch and then struck it low towards goal; it took a deflection, but De Vries plunged to his right to make a decent save.
90+2 min At the other end, the backpedalling Ward heads Kightly's corner straight into the hands of Doyle. I can't take all this excitement.
90+4 min. SOME AUTHENTIC EXCITEMENT! Matt Jarvis smacks the post in the last minute of injury time! He came infield from the left and then, from the corner of the box, drilled a superb, swooshing shot towards the far corner. Doyle dived full length to his left to tip it onto the post, and sprang straight to his feet to claw away Fletcher's close-range follow-up. That was a wonderful double save to end an otherwise shocking match. Never judge a book by its back cover.
Full time: Birmingham 0-0 Wolves Thanks for your emails. Bye.