Substitute Ben Marshall hit a brilliant late equaliser to give Leicester a point at Birmingham that took them to the top of the npower Championship.
The England Under-21 international drilled home off the inside of the post with just four minutes to play at St Andrew’s, extending the Foxes’ unbeaten run to six games and giving them the share of the spoils that was the very minimum they deserved.
Entirely dominant in the first half, Nigel Pearson’s side missed a flurry of opportunities before the break and were hit with a sucker punch from Peter Lovenkrands on the stroke of half-time.
And as a frustrating second period wound to its conclusion, it looked as though nearly 4,000 travelling supporters would be heading home disappointed.
But their spirited side showed impressive substance to force their way back into the game and might even have snatched it at the end after Birmingham’s Jonathan Spector had been sent off for a second booking.
Two weeks after his side’s 2-0 win over Bristol City, Pearson made three changes to his starting eleven, with Ritchie De Laet and Zak Whitbread brought into the back four in place of Liam Moore and the injured Sean St. Ledger. In attack, illness restricted Jamie Vardy to a place on the bench, meaning a start for Martyn Waghorn.
From the moment Lovenkrands sold David Murphy short from the kick-off, forcing the Blues full-back to foul a chasing David Nugent, Birmingham were on the back foot.
Paul Konchesky blasted the resulting free-kick into the midriff of England goalkeeper Jack Butland and the tide of attacks from the men in white began to build.
Lloyd Dyer had a huge shout for a penalty waved away when he was clumsily tripped by a sliding James Hurst deep in the Birmingham box. A minute later, Konchesky’s free-kick was headed back by Whitbread and Waghorn’s volley brought another stop from Butland.
On they went – Anthony Knockaert’s delightful scooped pass finding Nugent inside the box and the City striker sending a fading volley spinning past Butland’s left-hand upright.
The 4,000 City fans behind that goal were on the edge of their seats and Andy King nearly brought them to their feet with a fierce drive from distance that brushed the outside of the post.
And the Wales international midfielder was bursting forward again just after the half-hour – raiding down the right onto Knockaert’s cross before his low centre was turned over by Waghorn in the centre.
Despite a speculative shot from Nathan Redmond and a brief sight of goal for Chris Burke that was snuffed out by Kasper Schmeichel, it seemed impossible to believe that the visitors wouldn’t break through – Murphy blocking a goal-bound shot from De Laet as the hosts clung on to parity.
But Birmingham improbably snatched the lead in first-half stoppage time with their first attack of any kind of threat – the otherwise-frustrated Marlon King sprinting into space down the right before his low cross was expertly dispatched by Lovenkrands.
Leicester players left the field at the break shaking their heads, disbelieving they could be behind after such a one-sided 45 minutes. Had Marlon King’s shot from a Lovenkrands pass just after the interval not been beaten away by Schmeichel, they might have been pinching themselves.
Waghorn saw a stinging drive tipped over by a flying Butland just after the hour, but the visitors were not dominating and creating as prolifically as they had been in the first half and Birmingham threatened again moments later when substitute Leroy Lita spurned a chance presented to him by Ravel Morrison’s pass.
Pearson introduced Vardy and Marshall in a bid to build attacking momentum, but Birmingham’s ship looked steady and Butland behind them looked assured when pressure did grow.
Marko Futacs’ introduction was an indication of Leicester’s intention to go more direct, but they were struggling to mount the consistent spells of pressure required to force mistakes from a Birmingham defence carrying a limping Curtis Davies.
But their positivity eventually paid dividends as De Laet won possession on the halfway line, allowing King to release Marshall through the centre.
The space opened up in front of him and Marshall duly raided into it, looked up and drilled a precise left-foot shot from 25 yards that beat his England Under-21 team-mate in the Birmingham goal off the inside of his left-hand post.
The force was very much with the visitors and after Spector got his marching orders for a clumsy foul on a breaking Ritchie De Laet, Marshall saw a stunning free-kick produce a save from Butland that was equally impressive.
Not the three points they might have wanted or even deserved, but another extremely promising display that took the Foxes to the summit. They will host Brighton on Tuesday night as the npower Championship leaders.
Birmingham (4-4-2): Butland; Hurst (Fahey 76), Davies, Caldwell (c), Murphy; Burke (Elliott 56), Morrison, Spector; Lovenkrands (Lita 63), King.
Unused subs: Doyle, Mullins, Packwood, Robinson.
Booked: Spector, Morrison
Sent-off: Spector 90+4
Goals: Lovenkrands 45+1
City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; De Laet, Morgan (c), Whitbread, Konchesky; Knockaert (Futacs 82), King, Drinkwater, Dyer (Marshall 73); Nugent, Waghorn (Vardy 73).
Unused subs: Logan, James, Schlupp, Moore.
Goals: Marshall 86
Booked: Whitbread, Waghorn
Attendance: 18,271 (3,752 away)
Referee: Tony Bates