The Ecuadorian may not have scored on Saturday, but his effort, skill and link play must have been noted by new club owner Carson Yeung, who was flanked in the stands by advisor and former Liverpool star Steve McManaman.
On the ball: Birmingham's Christian Benitez skips past Michael Turner
Benitez's introduction to English football has been beset by problems. He arrived lacking match fitness. World Cup qualification has restricted him to bit-parts during the past two months. And a serious car crash involving his father has also extended his absence.
Yet with Cameron Jerome's pace and power unsettling Sunderland's defence, Benitez so often picked up the pieces. More importantly, he knew how to fit them together.
'Performance-wise, he looks a player,' said a happy McLeish. 'He's a box of tricks and he's shown today he can be a real handful. He pops up in areas where it's difficult for defenders to pick him up. He's got a terrific touch, too. He seems a natural to me.
Up in arms: Carson Yeung celebrates
'We don't have to tell him where to go. He knows. And he worked for the cause. At 5ft 6in, he's not the best tackler but he's inspired the others. It's given people like James McFadden and Cameron Jerome the incentive to prove they can play, too.
'I don't know about his finishing yet. People have told me he needs a few chances to score one. But he seems to create four or five anyway, so the law of averages says he'll be all right.'
McLeish now needs to be left alone to consider improvements. In fact, he needs to be left alone, full stop. News from China that former Crystal Palace defender Fan Zhiyi had been offered a coaching role by Yeung was ill-timed.
And with director of football Sammy Yu appointed to look over McLeish's shoulder on the training pitch, surely the time has come to allow the Scot a degree of latitude.
Former co-owner David Sullivan insisted McLeish was a better manager than his predecessor, and ex-managing director Karren Brady claimed he was more ambitious. He has earned the right to shape his squad without interference.
Bruce, by comparison, is being allowed the freedom to manage as he sees fit. And, as the Match of the Day summarisers joked repeatedly after using the same statistic twice, had they won at St Andrew's, Sunderland would have risen to fourth. It would be asking too much for the Geordie to eradicate overnight the inconsistency that has dogged the Wearsiders. But they got what they deserved here.
Bruce said: 'Maybe it's a mental thing, but we're going to have to address it. We need to find the answer because I can't put up with performances like that.'
BIRMINGHAM (4-4-2): Hart 6, Carr 7, Johnson 7, Dann 7, Ridgewell 7; Larsson 8, (Carsley 82min) Bowyer 6, Ferguson 7, McFadden 7; (O'Connor, 76) Benitez 8, Jerome 7 (McSheffrey, 76). Booked: Johnson, Ferguson, McSheffrey.SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Gordon 6, Bardsley 5, Turner 6, Ferdinand 5, Richardson 6; Malbranque 4, (Campbell 68, 5) Cana 5, (Zenden 68, 5) Henderson 5, (McCartney 68, 5) Reid 7; Bent 5, Jones 5. Booked: Gordon.Man of the match: Christian Benitez.Referee: Martin Atkinson.
BIRMINGHAM CITY FC