Leaders making chumps of the championship

THE CHAMPIONSHIP is not supposed to be like this.

A league which prides itself on being tougher than Teflon and as hard to escape as Alcatraz is being made to look dangerously easy by Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City, and there was nothing to suggest in this enthralling summit meeting that both will falter towards the end of the season.

Already, they boast a vast lead over their supposed rivals — although Reading can cut the gap to second-placed Birmingham to four points tonight — and while both sides offer vastly differing styles, they each have the strength in depth and the experience to maintain their charge until May.

Birmingham, whose steady if rather unspectacular form this season had drawn criticism from a notoriously demanding fan-base, should have departed here the happier, but instead they will have spent the weekend wallowing in frustration.

The visitors were the brighter, more inventive side for long spells, took the lead with a neat finish from Cameron Jeorme and were 16 minutes from a precious victory when Sylvan Ebanks-Blake popped up with an equaliser.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t get three points,” Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager who celebrated his first anniversary at the weekend, complained. “The way we played in the first half, especially. Wolves had a lot of the ball in the second half but we had a lot to contend with.

“Sebastian Larsson had to pull out just before kick-off due to personal circumstances, we lost Nicky Hunt with a hamstring injury and I thought the way the players played after that was absolutely fantastic.

“We showed great spirit and determination. We got in front and could have been more in front by that time, and that always left Wolves with a lifeline.”

His opposite number Mick McCarthy felt it was a fair result overall and he was happy to have taken four points from two tough games following Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Sheffield United.

“Once we recovered from their goal, we started playing and I think we ended up the stronger side and the most likely winner — I’m not saying we deserved it. But overall I thought it was a fair point for both sides. We certainly deserved a point.

“I’ve got a very pragmatic view to life, as I have to football, and if someone had asked whether I would have taken four points from the last two games then the answer to that is quite clearly ‘yes’.”

Fittingly, when asked if either side had learned anything about their nearest challengers for promotion to the Premier League, McCarthy replied: “I think they’ll know we’re a good side and I’m aware they’re a good side. The status quo remains the same.”

WOLVES (4-4-2): Hennessey, Foley, Stearman, Mancienne, Ward, Kightly, Henry, Jones (Edwards 72), Gray (Keogh 56), Ebanks-Blake, Iwelumo (Vokes 62).

Subs Not Used: Higgs, Collins.

BIRMINGHAM (4-4-2): Maik Taylor, Hunt (Nafti 45), Jaidi, Ridgewell, Queudrue, McFadden, Carsley, Quashie, Murphy, Phillips (Jerome 46), Bent (Owusu-Abeyie 90).

Subs Not Used: Doyle, Agustien.

REFEREE: Paul Taylor (Hertfordshire).

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