Houllier lays down the law
Aston Villa and Birmingham City escaped Villa Park with local pride and honour intact - but a colourless midlands derby did claim one high-profile victim.
And with his brutally honest assessment of Stephen Ireland, left on the bench throughout a goalless draw that cried out for the sort of creativity he has been known to provide, Gerard Houllier put down an early marker for the requirements under his regime.
Ireland is, without doubt, a talent but Houllier's dissection of the reasons behind his absence was an echo of the doubts expressed during the latter days of his Manchester City career.
So, even among the drab events of an encounter which ended with the spoils justifiably shared, conclusions can be drawn about what life will be like under Houllier at Villa Park.
When Houllier overlooked Ireland and introduced youngster Barry Bannan in the 57th minute, eyebrows were raised that a relative novice was preferred to an expensive acquisition.
Houllier offered a graphic illustration of why when asked afterwards, saying: "He (Ireland) needs to work harder. He played against Chelsea and did well, then played against Sunderland and was not good enough for me.
"The skill is one thing but you need to compete. It is a difficult period for him but we will support him and back him. He's come to a new club with a different manager in between.
"We know he is a good player but I don't want to have players who say 'he's a good player but...' If you say: 'he's a good player but he doesn't defend, but he doesn't run back, but he loses too many balls in crucial areas' that's difficult. He needs to get rid of these 'buts' and be a good player."
A wake-up call for Ireland, who arrived in the limbo period between Martin O'Neill's departure and Houllier's arrival as part of James Milner's sale to Manchester City, but it could almost be a coded message for the rest of the squad.
This, in microcosm, is the Houllier philosophy.
Houllier has inherited some good players from O'Neill, but not nearly enough and too many have that "but" against their name. Yes, Ireland was the subject of his remarks after this game, but the rest of Villa's squad will do well to take note.
It is early days to make definitive assessments of how Houllier will tackle the job, but evidence suggests he has taken on a squad limited in number and quality and he will need time and patience to shape it to his own satisfaction.
When I watched Villa last season under O'Neill, they were too often one-dimensional and ran short of ideas against opponents who did not buckle swiftly under the trademark qualities of width, pace and power. The crucial element of craft was too often missing.
And so it was again against this durable, mature Birmingham City side expertly marshalled at the back by the outstanding Roger Johnson.
Once Villa's early sting, such as it was, was drawn, they fell back on the old template of too many long balls aimed in the direction of Emile Heskey. Gabriel Agbonlahor's pace and goalscoring ability was sorely missed, as was emerging youngster Marc Albrighton.
This is something Houllier must, and will, address and you suspect it may need owner Randy Lerner to rip a few cheques from his book to help his new manager achieve it.
Of course, the whole equilibrium of Villa's season was turned upside down not just by O'Neill's departure but the timing of his resignation, just five days before the start of the new campaign. It was a major disruption and a recovery period is needed.
Houllier cannot start making any crucial adjustements until January, and even then the serious work may have to wait until next summer.
Villa, with Stilyan Petrov also a long-term absentee, need more ringcraft and this is why suggestions that Houllier may cast his net towards Manchester United and Michael Owen make perfect sense, if only the man who helped him haul in silverware at Liverpool could get himself fit.
I asked Houllier whether he was facing a major rebuilding or the odd tweak to consolidate his Villa squad and he said: "It is about players and staff. We do have a job on our hands. We know we can play better football, but whether it is possible in derbies I don't know."
Houllier's assessment was correct. This was not the sort of setting, tense and attritional, to gauge the progress of Villa under his guidance so far. The statistics do not make pretty reading, with 344 minutes without a league goal the starkest of them all.
If Ireland takes Houllier's message on board, he will flourish under a manager who renewed careers before - just ask Danny Murphy. If he does not he has wasted a golden opportunity.
Houllier is no fool. He knew this was not good enough and will quickly be assessing the scale of the rebuilding he will undertake. He was left to grasp at the small consolation of a point - and you suspect opposite number Alex McLeish will have gleaned more satisfaction from the result.
Birmingham were well-organised and, as McLeish pointed out, disciplined both tactically and personally, especially in the face of Villa captain Nigel Reo-Coker, who was like a bear with a sore head from first whistle until even after the last, when he marched on to the pitch to pointlessly seek confrontation.
McLeish was surprisingly sanguine about a handling offence from Reo-Coker in the first half, which referee Howard Webb turned a blind eye to despite standing only yards away.
If one man summed up Birmingham, and the approach demanded by McLeish, it was defender Johnson, a tower of strength throughout and determined to play on even after Birmingham's physio declared his afternoon over following a challenge by Reo-Coker.
Johnson is a good, old-fashioned defender, with a refreshing "they shall not pass approach" and a perfect advert for talent that can be found in the Championship if managers are prepared to take the chance.
Reo-Coker was in feisty mood all day and was at odds with Craig Gardner throughout, a smiling McLeish declaring: "I don't think they get on. I deduced that quite quickly - I did my Sherlock Holmes on that one."
McLeish has done an admirable job in assembling a Birmingham City team that is now established in the Premier League, saying: "The guys in that squad and in that dressing room are men after my own heart."
Houllier is at the start of his work across the city at Aston Villa - and his words directed at Ireland make it clear he is not prepared to have unnecessary obstacles placed in his path.