Robert Earnshaw sees his spot-kick rise over the bar
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at the City Ground
Robert Earnshaw's penalty miss deprived Nottingham Forest of the chance to claim the scalp of Premier League Birmingham City as they fought out an FA Cup third round stalemate at the City Ground.
Earnshaw wasted the chance to give Billy Davies' promotion-chasing Forest a victory they deserved when he lifted his 61st-minute spot-kick over the top after Gregory Vignal fouled Paul Anderson.
Wales striker Earnshaw was denied again seconds later by the outstanding Joe Hart as Birmingham's on-loan keeper pressed his England claims with a faultless display.
Luke Chambers also headed against the crossbar for Forest in the first half as they demonstrated the growing maturity that has made them such a threat in the Championship, while Hart saved superbly from Chris Cohen early in the second half.
Birmingham - who lost Stuart Parnaby and Lee Carsley to injury - were on the back foot for much of the game, but finally posed a serious threat after Earnshaw's penalty miss, with Kevin Phillips hitting a post and also losing out when he ran through with only Forest keeper Lee Camp to beat.
In the end, two in-form sides must do battle again, perhaps no surprise as Forest entered the game on the back of a 16-match unbeaten run since they lost to Blackburn Rovers in the Carling Cup in September while Alex McLeish's side are now undefeated in 12 matches.
As expected, both managers made changes as Forest tried to keep fresh legs for their Championship promotion push and Birmingham attempted to consolidate an outstanding Premier League campaign so far.
Forest boss Davies regarded this tie as a measure of the development of his side - and the Scot will have been encouraged by the manner in which they went about their work.
Dexter Blackstock almost gave an expectant City Ground gallery the start they wanted after two minutes when he drove deep into the Birmingham area but shot into the side-netting.
Birmingham's early rhythm was disrupted by the departure of injured Parnaby, who was replaced by Gary McSheffrey, who had a spell on loan at Forest last season. They also lost Carsley before half-time when he injured his knee slipping as he made a challenge. He was carried off with Lee Bowyer entering the fray.
Lee Camp ensured his side a return trip to St Andrew's
McLeish's side posed only occasional threats in the first half, with Cameron Jerome having a shot palmed away by Forest keeper Camp and pulling another effort wide. Phillips also tested Camp, who was again equal to the task.
Forest, with a composed and ordered approach, were the more dangerous side and Chambers almost gave them a lead their territorial possession deserved just before the interval, when he headed Cohen's corner against the bar.
Birmingham showed greater attacking intent in the opening moments after the break, with Camp pushing Vignal's shot to safety - but Forest responded instantly and should have broken the deadlock.
Blackstock pounced on Birmingham's carelessness in possession and set up Cohen inside the area, but Hart came to his side's rescue with a crucial save.
Forest were well on top, but wasted the perfect opportunity to finally make their pressure pay after 61 minutes when referee Steve Bennett pointed to the spot as Anderson was fouled by Vignal.
Earnshaw appeared to over-complicate his run-up and ballooned his spot-kick hopelessly over the bar, much to the City Ground's frustration.
And he was thwarted again seconds later as he raced clear, only for the excellent Hart to get the slightest of touches to send the ball agonisingly wide.
Suddenly the game opened up and Phillips twice came close to giving Birmingham an advantage that would have been harsh in the extreme, given Forest's supremacy.
He glanced the outside of an upright with a long-range effort before Camp raced from his goal to save as Phillips ran through on to the sort of opportunity he normally converts with relish.
Birmingham had finally managed to exert their authority, and Camp was forced into action once more as he touched Barry Ferguson's header around the post.
It was the last threat of an entertaining FA Cup tie watched by almost 21,000 fans - although both managers may regard a replay as an unwanted intrusion into an already crowded calendar.
Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies told BBC Radio Nottingham:
"In the first 45 minutes we were dominant, we should have come in at half-time two or three up. There was only one side in it.
"We missed a penalty at a crucial time and that gave them a boost.
"Very proud of the players, and there is no doubt that we should have won the match."
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish on his use of fringe players: "(The changes) were enforced. Maybe it could be seen as a calculated risk to keep the momentum going if it was a Premier League game.
"But I feel we have enough experience and ability in reserve to come in and they slotted in very well.
"I would have liked to have won it, but Forest had a lot to say about that.
"They had their chances and we also had our chances, but we'll take the draw. We're still in the Cup."
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