Manchester City will view fun with even more suspicion following an enjoyable match that saw them twice surrender a lead to bold Birmingham. It was emblematic of the excitement that Aleksandar Kolarov might have won the match with the last kick of the ball but his free-kick flew fractionally wide, unlike the set piece he had converted in the first half.

The only sombre moment of the night came with the bad head knock to Micah Richards before the interval when he collided with his team-mate Nigel de Jong. A neck brace was required before he was carried off and taken to hospital but there were early reports that he had regained consciousness and was recovering.

Where the match itself was concerned, the Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini could not get over the award of a penalty that Craig Gardner converted for the second Birmingham leveller in the 77h minute. The referee Kevin Friend judged that one veteran substitute, Patrick Vieira, had fouled another, Kevin Phillips "He dived," Mancini said flatly.

That was, at best, an exaggeration and Alex McLeish stood up for the forward. "Kevin was too quick for him," he said, "Kevin's not a diver. He's a true English gentleman." Mancini believed his side ought to have had a spot-kick of their own earlier when, in the 62nd minute, James Milner's cross came off the jutting arm of Stephen Carr.

Mancini has far more than that to upset him since City are now eight points behind the leaders Manchester United. The general level of his side is a worry. "I didn't like how we played," he said. "It's better that we wake up quickly. At this moment [the gap with United] is too much. We have to play better than we did this evening. It is impossible to win if you concede two goals in every game. We slept. Probably we are not working well in training."

The visitors have been unable to keep a clean sheet since 5 January. It looks imperative that Mancini's side beat United at Old Trafford on 12 February. "We will try," said the manager, "but if we play like this I don't think we can. If we play better and don't concede a goal it is possible."

The side was more flamboyant than usual. Edin Dzeko was, with Carlos Tevez, in a pleasing if rather old-fashioned partnership of strikers. The boldness worked initially. After two minutes David Silva, from the right, worked his way into the area and Tevez, with tenacity to complement his skill, resisted the challenge of Martin Jiranek to squeeze a shot into the corner of the net.

There was an unlikely openness to the contest and Birmingham levelled in the 23rd minute. Nikola Zigic may have got the faintest of touches on the whipped free-kick from the left by David Bentley that found the net. There are formalities to be completed before the new loan signing Obafemi Martins can work in this country again but there was still a threat to Birmingham's attack.

Even so, the visitors regained the lead with a brutal yet curling free-kick from Kolarov in the 39th minute following a foul by Gardner on Dzeko. Mancini's side ought to be cut out for eminence but, for all the fabulous wealth, they are a club who have relatively modest ambitions at present

Birmingham had a determination to take the play to their opponents. Whether because of that endeavour or simply out of a conservatism urged on them by Mancini, Manchester City paused to take stock early in the second half. Such a policy was not wholly convincing when McLeish's side had nothing to lose.

Kolo Touré had taken over Richards' role but he was not quite as equipped for the aerial approach from Birmingham that was increasingly marked. While the visitors would have understood that place of real safety was in the other half of the pitch, they could not settle there as soon as they would have liked. There was defending to be done.

A lull of sort was reached but the visitors were neglecting to use any panache by then. They did have breakaways in mind but Birmingham were not so naive as to let these visitors play as they wished.

If this showing is repeated the stress on Mancini will mount. There has been a calmness around the club, yet the task is to confirm that progress is taking place. This night at St Andrew's never hinted that Mancini's side are bound for glory.