Wolverhampton Wanderers missed a prime opportunity to clamber out of the relegation zone as they were held to a draw by a Birmingham City side who were reduced to 10 men midway through the first half following Craig Gardner's dismissal for diving.

Steven Fletcher had given Wolves an early lead from the penalty spot but slipshod defending enabled Sebastian Larsson to equalise a short time later. And for all their huffing and puffing in the second period, Wolves could not blow the Birmingham door down again.

Mick McCarthy had warned his team beforehand that if they continued performing in the way that had brought three heavy defeats in their past four games they would be doomed to demotion. That statement of the obvious seemed to stimulate his side as Wolves began with ferocious hunger and forged a shooting opportunity within 20 seconds, though Kevin Foley's wayward effort did not demand a save from Ben Foster.

Foster's inclusion, following recovery from the injury that had forced him off in last week's defeat by Liverpool, was meant to be a boost for Birmingham but in the seventh minute a mistake by the normally reliable goalkeeper enabled Wolves to take the lead. Foster miscued an attempted clearance to Matt Jarvis and then, after the winger slipped the ball through to Stephen Ward, compounded that by felling the forward. Stephen Fletcher sent him the wrong way from the ensuing penalty.

Errors continued to litter the game, maladroitness rather than malice accounting for most of the many fouls. What little quality was on display tended to come from Wolves, but McCarthy's men are in relegation trouble because they have routinely marred otherwise decent displays with outbreaks of embarrassing incompetence. Richard Stearman provided a textbook example in the 14th minute with a wild tackle on Craig Garnder at the edge of the area. Larsson cracked the resultant free-kick off the crossbar. In the 27th minute, however, Larsson's punishment for a mistake by Michael Mancienne was more deadly. Mancienne lost track of a long Foster punt and then unwittingly nodded the ball into Larsson's path. The Swede fired past Wayne Hennessey from close range.

Gardner handed the initiative back to the visitors by attempting to dupe the referee with a dive. The midfielder, who was already on a yellow card, succeeded only in making a fool of himself as Kevin Friend flourished the deserved red card.

Birmingham seemed to prioritise the draw after that and conceded territory to the visitors. McCarthy, whose team were in more urgent need of maximum points, made a series of attacking substitutions but none inspired his team and, as the match became ever more scrappy, Wolves, like Birmingham, did not create another chance of note.