A featureless display by Liverpool will still have been etched deep in the minds of supporters as they headed back to Merseyside. They had no right to expect victory at St Andrews, where they have not won in the Premier League since 2004, but the tepid nature of the team continued to offend those hot-blooded fans. The outcome would have been worse had it not been for the superlative goalkeeping of José Reina.
Birmingham City were admirable and, if this fixture was the only evidence submitted, most people would conclude that Alex McLeish is the manager with the happier future before him. Roy Hodgson, his opposite number, will have understood completely the stress to come when he accepted the Anfield post during the summer.
Reina is one of the few connections to the excellence of years gone by and Liverpool depend on such men to sustain them. To Hodgson's misfortune in Fernando Torres he has a remarkable striker who has been shorn of true impact since a knee injury in the spring. For all the manager's know-how, there is no other way to address that topic except through trust and patience.
It was Birmingham's centre-forward, Cameron Jerome, who was in the thick of the action. While he contributed vigorously it is still symptomatic of clubs outside the elite who seek or already hold Champions League places that the extra dimension in technique or imagination is lacking. Even so Birmingham had faith and did not waver when Liverpool came closer to hitting a rhythm in the second half.
McLeish's line-up was full of a purpose that daunted Hodgson's men for a time. Torres, trying to revert to his old self, must have cursed the obdurate work of the centre-backs Roger Johnson and Scott Dann. It could, of course, be a help that Birmingham do not have the weight of grand history to carry on their backs as they travel through this Premier League programme.
These are heady times for them. It is natural, given the costs, that the most refined technique is not present. Even so, their methods came close to downing Liverpool. Birmingham may not glitter but Reina had to tip over a header from Jerome in the 22nd minute when he got between Martin Skrtel and the debutant Paul Konchesky to connect with a Lee Bowyer cross.
Eight minutes before half-time Steven Carr's delivery found Craig Gardner but that header, too, was kept out by Reina. The outcome of the game appeared to depend solely on the outcome of Birmingham's struggle to achieve precision in the goalmouth. Their own goalkeeper, Ben Foster, might have gone unnoticed until he saved routinely from a Steven Gerrard 20-yarder.
That attempt by the captain illustrated Hodgson's dilemma. The manager needs Gerrard near the fringes of the penalty area but by having him in so advanced a post he depletes a midfield whose core here of Lucas and the recently arrived Denmark international Christian Poulsen was no more than workmanlike. While Liverpool did enjoy more possession at the start of the second half they were still at Birmingham's mercy.
In the 57th minute Dann met a Sebastian Larsson free-kick but connected with such force that his header bounced steeply over the crossbar. Liverpool did show more intent thereafter and Hodgson's desire to reshape his line-up was clear when the substitute Raul Meireles made his debut. But a greater transformation is essential.
Joe Cole's imminent return from suspension should be of help and the nuances of his style will increase the range of the build-up. Liverpool are far from the top of the table, though, and do not appear to have the means to rise all that high. Essentially everything that the club does sparks yet more discussion about the debts, the ownership and the bank's intentions over Anfield affairs.
Liverpool, unlike Birmingham, will never be allowed to go about their work quietly. McLeish, of course, may not necessarily feel blessed to be in his post. Apart from some awkwardness over the sealing of a new contract, the Scot has to consider how much higher he can hoist the club. It will be tough to pull off more coups such as the signing of Barry Ferguson, who shaped this match from midfield.
Still McLeish could be content. James McFadden's form picked up and there was a more technical approach than might have been anticipated.
It was not creativity so much as precise finishing that eluded Birmingham. The line-up is well-integrated, though, and the record on this ground – where all of last season's top four were held to draws – must now be making rivals wince when the fixture at St Andrew's rolls around.
Given that context, Liverpool can hardly have been in despair at the share of the points. All the same, it is difficult, without a sustained revival from Torres, to tell how Hodgson's men can reel off wins and transform their position.
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