History was made in fitting fashion with a masterpiece of resilience. The 1-1 draw against Manchester United extended Birmingham's unbeaten run to 12 league games, the most they have ever mustered in the top flight. The surprise, on Saturday, was that there was no surprise. Such has been Birmingham's progress that holding a weakened United side felt entirely natural. Not that it was easy: there were times when one penalty box was strewn with bodies, the product of block after block as players flung themselves in the way of shots. Such devotion brought United's goal, deflected in off the unfortunate Scott Dann, but it is the single greatest factor in Birmingham's ascent.
The manager, Alex McLeish, has a safety-first approach that invited criticism at the start of the season, when Birmingham fielded a lone striker and struggled to score. The last dozen matches have shown a unity, on and off the field, which is rendered all the more unexpected given the completion of Carson Yeung's take-over. He has talked of marketing the club in China. McLeish has produced a team to generate pride in Birmingham. Their nickname, Blues, is appropriate for a club with a predominantly blue-collar support. The working man has a team with an enviable work ethic.
If global appeal is a modern concept, McLeish's is a distinctly old-fashioned approach. Restoring the tried-and-trusted 4-4-2 formation has helped. He has built from the back. Dann and Roger Johnson are twin contenders for the unofficial title of the signing of the season. In front of them, the central midfield duo of Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer, the former acting as the anchorman while the latter supports the strikers, is a classic combination of a more destructive and a more attacking player.
From the flanks, Sebastian Larsson and James McFadden provide a stream of accurate crosses and set-pieces as well as shadowing their full-backs. In the forward line, Cameron Jerome and Christian Benitez can resemble twin Emile Heskeys, forever foraging without always getting the rewards. It is understandable why there is interest in Kenwyne Jones, Kevin Kuranyi and Ryan Babel but it is also apparent that few defenders enjoy an easy afternoon against Jerome and Benitez.
A little has gone a long way for Birmingham: 21 goals have brought them 33 points. McLeish has long insisted he will not sign anyone who disrupts the togetherness of his side who have been unchanged in their last nine league games. It is another record and adds another element of nostalgia. So, indeed, does a line-up including six Englishmen, two Scots and one Irish footballer. Once again, McLeish's methods are rooted in the past. And again, that is no criticism. Rejuvenating Ferguson and Bowyer, whose reputations preceded them in unwanted fashion, and luring Stephen Carr out of retirement, are the sort of left-field signings more associated with Brian Clough than McLeish's mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson. In the continual quest for the new, McLeish has shown the merits of turning to the old.
But the secret, perhaps, is that there is no magic formula. Team work and team spirit, astute management and canny signings is a potent combination. Birmingham have never had a better blend. When the only two games scheduled finish 1-1 and 2-2, it should be safe to assume there were no winners. Not so: while Manchester United and Arsenal dropped two points apiece, Chelsea retain their lead and will have their game against Hull rearranged when Didier Drogba and Michael Essien are back from Africa.