Lukas Jutkiewicz scored the only goal as 10-man Birmingham City boosted their survival hopes with a 1-0 win at relegation rivals Bolton last night - leaving Sunderland staring at a second successive relegation.
The former Bolton striker’s 40th-minute winner was his first Sky Bet Championship goal in six months and it secured a third successive win for Garry Monk’s side.
But the Blues played the final 23 minutes with 10 men after Che Adams’ dismissal for a foul on substitute Craig Noone.
The win lifted Birmingham to 39 points - the same as Bolton and Reading.
That leaves them five points clear of third bottom Barnsley, who are in the final relegation spot, and EIGHT clear of Sunderland and Burton Albion, who both have just six games left.
If results go against them, Sunderland could be relegated next Tuesday, when they take on Norwich at the Stadium of Light.
Bolton had two second-half penalty appeals for handball turned down by referee Oliver Langford in last night’s match.
Wanderers fashioned the first chance with Sammy Ameobi whipping in a left-footed cross but an unmarked Will Buckley tamely headed wide when he should have hit the target.
A lack of quality was summed up seven minutes before the interval when David Davis took aim from nearly 30 yards and almost landed the ball in the second tier.
But the Blues’ invaluable goal arrived a minute later. Following a Karl Henry foul, Jacques Maghoma floated in a free-kick and an unmarked Jutkiewicz fired home from 10 yards.
Jutkiewicz’s speculative long-distance drive forced Ben Alnwick into his first real save of the game after 50 minutes.
Wanderers’ frustration was clear to see and Jon Flanagan was booked for hacking down Adams.
Bolton boss Phil Parkinson, not one for early substitutions, made an exception with his team struggling to make any impression on a side bidding for a third successive clean sheet. Noone replaced Derik after 55 minutes in a more dynamic formation as Bolton searched for inspiration.
They also needed a positive decision from referee Langford who turned down mass home shouts for a spot kick when Jota appeared to handle Buckley’s cross.
Langford then had to make another big call as Adams recklessly scythed down Noone. The 21-year-old kicked the players’ tunnel as he departed after a straight red card but could have no complaints.
Adam Le Fondre lobbed an effort over the crossbar while Langford rejected a hand ball appeal against Michael Morrison from Le Fondre’s flick.