Premier League - Birmingham ease drop fears
Birmingham City gave their Premier League survival hopes a major boost with a 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Sunderland.
Despite being outplayed for long periods, an individual error from Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet that allowed in Sebastian Larsson, and a thunderbolt from Craig Gardner saw the home side come away with three points that see them leapfrog their opponents into 14th position in the league.
Sunderland can take heart from their performance, though they have now taken just one point from the last 27 available, and dropped to 15th position, five points clear of the relegation zone.
No sooner had the visitors kicked off than they almost found themselves a goal down as Cameron Jerome gave an early glimpse of his pace and power. He flew past a statuesque Michael Turner to latch onto a long ball down the left flank, and was only foiled by a fine low save from Mignolet after cutting in onto his right foot.
After a worryingly slow start, Sunderland seemed to awaken through a golden chance as Lee Cattermole caught Barry Ferguson in possession just outside the Birmingham penalty area, and after Ben Foster denied the midfielder down low, Stephane Sessegnon drilled the rebound low at goal, only to see his effort intercepted by last-ditch goal-line clearance from Roger Johnson.
Minutes later Danny Welbeck fluffed his lined after seizing onto a loose ball in the area, and the early optimism and confidence that was palpable just after kick-off had been replaced in St. Andrew’s by tension.
Just as it seemed Birmingham would be content to end the half on level-pegging, however, they were presented with a goal from out of the blue. A long punt downfield from Foster was flicked on by Jerome, and while Phil Bardsley waited for the onrushing Mignolet to clear the ball, Larsson nipped in to volley home into an empty net.
Foster then saved well from Asamoah Gyan to preserve his side’s lead going into the break, while at the start of the second half Jordan Henderson whistled a shot inches past the post after a superb move involving deft touches from Welbeck and Gyan.
Cattermole was next to test Foster with a deflected low drive, before Ferguson headed off the line from Turner’s looping far-post header, and then Welbeck sent a thumping header inches over from the resultant corner.
Just as was the case with the opening goal, Birmingham grabbed their second just when it seemed they were most under pressure. After they at last managed to string a few passes together in the Sunderland half, Gardner collected the ball in a central position and unleashed a vicious left foot shot that Mignolet could not keep out.
Undeterred, Sunderland continued to press forward in search of a goal, though found the Birmingham defence, and Johnson in particular, in fine form.
Thus, Liam Ridgewell was on hand with a block when Henderson finally found some space to let fly from inside the box, and the talented Gyan could manage no more than a speculative volley from distance that failed to trouble Foster.
Substitute Matt Derbyshire should have put the icing on the cake for Birmingham when racing onto Alexander Hleb’s perfectly-timed through ball in the final minute, though scuffed his shot badly wide.