STOKE CITY were involved in the first drawn game of the new Premier League campaign . . . but were left wondering why it wasn't turned into three points at Birmingham City.
Tony Pulis' side dominated the match from start to finish, only to draw a blank as they failed to take advantage of some good chances, most notably a close range header from Ricardo Fuller which was lifted over the bar in the 58th minute.
Birmingham rarely exerted any pressure on the City defence although Thomas Sorensen pulled off an excellent save to deny Gary O'Connor.
Pulis was looking for an improvement in his side's away form and he certainly got it in terms of the level of their performance in this match.
As expected, Pulis made two changes to the side beaten at Liverpool in midweek with Liam Lawrence and Ricardo Fuller returning to the starting line-up. The only surprising aspect of those changes was the omission of summer-signing Dean Whitehead, though the manager had indicated that he wanted to rest certain players.
The early exchanges saw a trademark Rory Delap throw-in from the right cause problems for the Birmingham defence, but nobody was able to take advantage with a decisive touch, while Sorensen dealt with a long-range effort from defender Frank Queudrue in rather an unconvincing manner, punching it up in the air.
City were forced to make an early switch when James Beattie, who had fallen awkwardly when challenging for a cross, had to limp off in the 10th minute with a damaged right knee and it was Dave Kitson who was brought on in his place.
Stoke continued to pose more of a threat and Kitson was frustrated when Danny Higginbotham whipped over a menacing cross soon after his introduction. Ryan Shawcross rose in front of the substitute but was stretching off balance as he headed over.
Kitson then got an important flick with the head to Delap's long throw from the left and Lawrence was frustrated not to force the ball home at the far post.
Yet again, Delap's throw-ins wreaked havoc in the Birmingham defence as a series of flicks off the heads of home players led to the ball flashing across goal.
While Birmingham were looking out of sorts, City were frustrated that they couldn't make the most of their superiority by putting away some good chances.
Delap was however a little ambitious with a shot from long range which rolled harmlessly wide and the first half closed with Stoke exerting even more pressure.
Encouragingly for Pulis' side, the half-time interval did not interrupt the balance of play as Shawcross headed over from another long throw-in from Delap.
Fuller was then set away on a break through the middle and although he created space for himself with a burst of pace, his shot was a tame one at Hart.
However, in the 58th minute, the City striker should have done better with a close range header after Matthew Etherington's free kick had rebounded to him off a Birmingham defender, but his effort was lifted over the bar.
A contentious free-kick awarded to Birmingham signalled a period of pressure for the home side for the first time in the game and they were lifted by the fact that Garry O'Connor almost put them in front on the hour.
Substitute Sebastian Larsson swung in the free kick from the left and O'Connor's close range header was brilliantly saved by Sorensen, pushing it out one-handed as he dived to his right.
City had the ball in the net in the 74th minute, but Fuller was penalised for using a raised hand to flick it past Hart and he was subsequently shown a yellow card by referee Chris Foy.
With Whitehead replacing Etherington, they continued to press forward but all too often the ball didn't fall kindly for them in the final third of the pitch after some neat approach work, so they had to settle for a point in the first drawn match of the Premier League season.