An action-packed affair was on this week's Friday night viewing, as Birmingham City hosted Derby County with both in search of victories as the weekend's Sky Bet Championship matches got underway. In a game filled with plenty of chances, Johnny Russell's well-taken strike in the second-half made sure both teams came away with a hard-fought point, following Stephen Gleeson's 30-yard strike on the stroke of the interval.
A rather fast start for the hosts
Birmingham enjoyed their fair share of possession and half-chances in the early going, as they settled quickly in-front of the home supporters and the Blues could have been two goals ahead after just ten minutes. Demarai Gray had an effort fire straight towards the path of goalkeeper Scott Carson, as the highly-rated young winger was a constant threat on the flank for the Derby backline to deal with. Then, just a few minutes later, Clayton Donaldson had a golden opportunity to head home from close range.
After an inviting ball towards his path by Stephen Gleeson, his headed effort was a waste as Carson dealt with the danger. That being said though, there were some rather encouraging positives to take from Gary Rowett's side.
Ince's magic from midfield a delight to see
Tom Ince, another promising young forward, was forever probing the Birmingham players from midfield - and he helped create the visitors' first opportunity of the half. He found Johnny Russell in space in the area, but he was unable to pick his spot in time to strike. Darren Bent latched onto the loose ball but his close-range attempt was poor and well wide of the goal, much to the pleasure of the Birmingham supporters behind the goal.
Tomasz Kuszczak was relieved to see Ince's long-range effort crash off the woodwork and out to safety, after the talented Englishman weaved his way goalwards before shaping to shoot; which no doubt was a wake-up call for the hosts.
Speculative effort seals opener
Gray and Russell both came close with chances for either side, but to no avail. The clock was ticking and half-time was approaching, but no-one could have predicted what happened next. After an attempted shot was blocked away from the area, the loose ball fell to Gleeson and he instinctively hit an audacious strike from 30 yards.
Carson was angry with his defenders because they didn't close down the danger, and although it took a deflection on the way through, the midfielder's effort nestled into the far corner of the net - in some style too.
Action spills into second 45
The face of the two sides' team-talks was understandably different at the interval after Gleeson's spectacular effort, but no alterations were made as the second-half begun at St. Andrew's. Jon Toral (on-loan from Arsenal) and David Cotterill both came close for Birmingham as they looked to double their lead early on, but Derby looked dangerous on the counter attack and rightly so.
Craig Forsyth's drilled effort was palmed away by Kuszczak, and luckily for the visitors the Polish international punched the ball clear with Bent lurking for the rebound. The counter-attacking football was on display for all to admire, and Gray weaved his magic near the byline - turning his defender inside out, before the final ball across the box was unable to find a team-mate in space.
Derby level through Russell
Then, just after the hour mark, Derby grabbed an equaliser. Ince was at the heart of things going forward, unsurprisingly, and Russell equalised with a well-taken strike at the near post firing past Kuszczak.
It could have been 2-1 to the visitors, just a minute afterwards. Ince was ever-impressive and his flick-on towards Darren Bent was met by a crashing sound from the crossbar after his leaping header flashed above the former Manchester United man in goal. Then, perhaps coincidentally, Andreas Weimann replaced the former Sunderland forward with 25 minutes left to play.
Controversy and drama on the horizons
It wouldn't be a complete game without some drama or controversy of some sort. This game, had just that. The St. Andrew's crowd erupted momentarily as it appeared as though referee Lee Mason had awarded the visitors a penalty. But instead, he booked Chris Martin for simulation - which was not met well by the striker or any of his team-mates. Having been brought down, perhaps too easily, the incident didn't warrant a yellow card because there was clear contact. At the same time though, it would have been a soft penalty-kick to be given.
68 minutes on the clock, and Weimann was denied by a fantastic diving fingertip from Kuszczak having danced past the Blues backline advancing towards the edge of the area. His effort took a narrow deflection and the Pole was wrongfooted, but managed to deal with a shot that he had no right to save. Flicking it onto the post, he reacted swiftly to smother the ball too, and Derby couldn't believe their luck - or lack of it.
Neither side found a winner, but a great game nonetheless
Donaldson's effort crashed off the side netting a few minutes afterwards, and as both sides made substitutions in search of a winner, the tempo of the match dropped. Time was ticking, but neither team could manage to seal a late victory despite constant pressure going forward.
Following the exciting draw, which was anti-climatic in the final few minutes, Derby are still without a win from four games thus far. Birmingham meanwhile, have played a game less, and now have two draws to their name in the league following a 2-2 draw with Burnley last Saturday. A great advert for football, and the Championship itself; this was an enthralling game which you'd struggle to predict how it'd transpire from start-to-finish.