Ferguson leads Birmingham City's resistance
Birmingham City 2 Everton 2
Amid the talk of Arsenal's run-in being the easiest of the title contenders, their next away opponents have been casually bracketed with Burnley, Hull and Wolves as a source of potentially easy pickings.
But Birmingham City, as their manager Alex McLeish noted after their fightback against Everton, are a team who never give up.
St Andrew's has not witnessed a home defeat since September. Wenger will find a side unrecognisable, in character and quality as well as personnel, from the relegation-bound outfit whose stoppage-time equaliser added insult to the shocking injury Eduardo suffered at Birmingham two years ago.
On that occasion, James McFadden's spot-kick twisted the knife for Arsenal. This time, another Scot, Barry Ferguson, is a more likely thorn in their side. The national captain under McLeish, Ferguson's capacity to retain possession and select a pass were instrumental in Birmingham's recovery here and made him a close rival to the more flamboyant Mikel Arteta as the outstanding performer.
"Barry took charge," McLeish said succinctly. Craig Gardner, too, made an impact even before his crisply-taken equaliser, belying the fact that he was poorly 24 hours earlier. "I told him: 'Look, you can't let us down. If you're going to collapse after 20 minutes, it's a problem'," McLeish said. "He took a while to get into it, but he did, like Lee Bowyer, who had also been ill."
Everton, whose quest for Europa League qualification must continue without Landon Donovan after the American's return to California yesterday, could vouch for the threat awaiting Arsenal. They were cruising after goals by Victor Anichebe and Yakubu. David Moyes thought they had scored six in the 5-1 rout of Hull and it looked as if the manager may need a calculator to keep track of another spree.
Instead, Cameron Jerome cut the deficit and Gardner earned Birmingham a deserved point. "Davie [Moyes] must have thought, 'they told me this was a hard place to come but it's easy', until we got the proverbial finger out," McLeish said. "This is a team that never gives up."
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart; Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Gardner (Larsson, 59), Ferguson, Bowyer, Fahey; Jerome, Benitez (McFadden, 72). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Phillips, Michel, Queudrue, Tainio.
Everton (4-1-4-1): Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Heitinga; Anichebe (Gosling, 79), Cahill (Rodwell, 76) Arteta, Pienaar; Yakubu (Donovan, 67). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Hibbert, Yobo, Bilyaletdinov.
Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).
Booked: Birmingham Bowyer. Everton Yakubu.
Man of the match: Arteta