Birmingham frustrate Chelsea
England - Carlo Ancelotti has insisted he will not be hitting the January sales, but the Chelsea manager may rethink his strategy after his side were held to a 0-0 draw at Birmingham on Saturday.
Ancelotti's Premier League leaders could not find a way past Birmingham's heroic goalkeeper Joe Hart and will now be without strikers Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou for the next month in a series of games that could make or break their bid to wrestle the title from Manchester United.
Drogba and Kalou will fly out to the African Nations Cup on Monday and Ancelotti's faith in rookie striker Daniel Sturridge appeared misguided as the former Manchester City youngster fluffed his lines against a resurgent Birmingham.
The Italian's excruciating day plumbed further depths when Florent Malouda was sent off late on for a second bookable offence and the Blues' lead over United could be cut to two points if the champions win at Hull on Sunday.
Nicolas Anelka is expected to return for Chelsea's next match against Fulham but Ancelotti's lack of firepower was glaring against Alex McLeish's side, who have now gone eight games without defeat.
Birmingham did need Hart to produce a stunning performance but deserved to frustrate the visitors, who missed the chance to establish a greater lead at the top over United.
While Ancelotti could still consider transfer market moves, McLeish is mounting a compelling case to be named this season's Premier League manager of the year after a stunning campaign so far at St Andrew's.
The arrival of Hong Kong billionaire Carson Yeung in October, after almost two years of flirting, appeared to leave question marks hanging over McLeish's future but it has been quite the opposite.
Yeung has arguably helped galvanise a club sorely in need of energising and McLeish has worked wonders with an array of waifs, strays and has-beens.
Birmingham nearly stunned the visitors after just 30 seconds when Barry Ferguson sent Cameron Jerome galloping clear but the striker hooked his shot over the bar.
But Chelsea, who Ancelotti has admitted have not been good enough in recent weeks, steadily seized control with Branislav Ivanovic and Drogba both narrowly missing the target.
In the 26th minute Hart, on loan from Manchester City, produced an excellent save to repel Sturridge's drive from just inside the area.
And Hart performed similar heroics soon after when Frank Lampard somehow escaped an offside flag to break into the area and palmed his shot over the bar.
But Birmingham were cruelly denied an opening goal in the 34th minute. Liam Ridgewell capitalised on hesitant defending to poke the ball past Chelsea keeper Petr Cech and watched as Christian Benitez helped it over the line, only to be flagged offside - though he looked level with Drogba who was lying injured on the six-yard line.
Alex produced a snarl of defiance from the visitors shortly before half-time when he arrowed an incredible 40-yard free kick against the crossbar.
But Birmingham still posed a threat in the second half, with Cech pushing aside Sebastian Larsson's set piece just after the hour.
Hart proved a monumental presence in goal for Birmingham, saving superbly from substitute Kalou as the visitors frantically searched for a winner.
Malouda was dismissed for a needless foul on Stephen Carr and will face a ban so Ancelotti's vow on transfers next month could be drastically altered.