SUNDERLAND produced their best overall performance in weeks but still found themselves on the losing end this afternoon as the club’s relegation fears deepened.
Birmingham started brightly but Sunderland took control and went close on several occasions – the best opening coming on the quarter-hour when Stephane Sessegnon’s goal-bound shot was cleared off the line.
Jordan Henderson and Asamoah Gyan threatened from further chances and Sunderland were looking comfortable but in the 41st minute they shot themselves completely in the foot with the rock-solid Simon Mignolet choosing this game to drop a clanger.
Phil Bardsley could easily have kicked the ball into touch as Seb Larsson chased him down heading towards the Sunderland goal.
But the defender heeded a call from his keeper to leave the ball and when Mignolet failed to reach it in time the scramble as the three challenged saw the defender stab the ball under his keeper for an own goal.
It was a hammer blow from which Sunderland failed to recover but they made a fist of it in the second-half, outplaying the home team for most of the 45 minutes.
Once again they were the dominant side but they couldn’t turn pressure into goals and in the 67th minute Craig Gardner settled the issue when he received a ball 25 yards from goal, unmarked, and hit an instant drive which swerved away from Mignolet and into the bottom right-hand corner of the keeper’s goal.
Sunderland have now taken just one point from their last 27 and are starting to embark on the sort of extended run which put paid to the 19-pointers and 15-pointers of yesteryear.
* Full report and pictures in tonight’s Football Echo.