Blues ruin Bruce's return

24 October 2009 02:31
Steve Bruce's return to Birmingham with Sunderland saw him end up on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat. The former Blues boss made his first appearance at St Andrew's since leaving the Midlands-based club in 2007, but saw Liam Ridgewell and James McFadden ruin his day. A Scott Dann own goal did offer some hope for the Black Cats late on, but they were unable to snatch a share of the spoils. A bright first half brought plenty of endeavour from both sides without offering many clear-cut opportunities. Christian Benitez did come close to opening the scoring on the half-hour mark, but his smart shot on the turn was pushed behind by Craig Gordon. Birmingham did force a breakthrough, though, after 37 minutes when Sebastian Larsson's whipped delivery towards the near post got the slightest of touches off Ridgewell on its way into the back of the net. The Blues then wrapped up the points three minutes into the second half when McFadden showed smart footwork before rolling a low effort past the helpless Gordon. A rush of blood from Joe Hart eight minutes from time, as he was beaten to a free-kick by Michael Turner, offered Sunderland a route back into the game as Dann could only hack into his own net as he attempted to clear, but Alex McLeish's men held on for a welcome three points. Bruce insisted in the run-up to his return that Sunderland's heroics against Manchester United and Liverpool in their last two matches, which yielded four excellent points, would count for nothing if they left St Andrews empty-handed - and his caution proved well-founded. His fears of an 'after the Lord Mayor's show' performance became depressing real before the break as his side struggled to get out of their own half, let alone exert any real pressure on Hart's goal. It took the visitors 40 minutes to muster their first effort of note, and even then Andy Reid's left-foot effort flew well wide. By contrast, Birmingham - who went into the game having won only twice in the league and with just six goals to their name to date - were by far the more enterprising and were well worth their half-time lead. They created several opportunities, with McFadden and Cameron Jerome forcing regulation saves from goalkeeper Gordon. It took a last-ditch block from defender Michael Turner to stop McFadden converting Benitez's 27th-minute return pass. Scotland international Gordon had to distinguish himself with a fine save from Benitez at his near post seconds later as Birmingham established a real momentum, and they got their noses in front eight minutes before the break. Ridgewell got the decisive touch to Larsson's swinging free-kick to divert the ball into the net, although he looked to do so from an offside position. Where the visitors got the benefit of the doubt in last weekend's infamous beachball-gate incident, they were on the receiving end this time around. Benitez went close from long range once again with 44 minutes gone, and the Black Cats headed for the dressing room expecting a forthright assessment of their efforts from the manager. But whatever he said fell on deaf ears, as City soon extended their lead. Larsson's cross was slightly behind Jerome, but he cleverly flicked it into McFadden's path. The Scot stepped inside wrong-footed full-back Phil Bardsley and steadied himself before passing the ball past Gordon and into the net - despite Turner's desperate attempt to clear off the line. Sunderland's response was laboured in the extreme, with strikers Kenwyne Jones and Darren Bent seeing little of the ball, and their woes might have increased with 64 minutes gone had Benitez's shot crept inside rather than outside the post after clipping Bardsley's heels. Bruce decided enough was enough and with 68 minutes gone. He sent on Fraizer Campbell, George McCartney and Bolo Zenden for Steed Malbranque, Jordan Henderson and captain Lorik Cana - but it was too little, too late. Sunderland stirred as the game entered the closing stages and got their reward with eight minutes left when Dann could only help Turner's glancing header into his own net. Campbell might have snatched a point when he climbed to meet Reid's 84th-minute cross but headed high over, and Bent when even closer with an 89th-minute volley which shaved the post. There was still time for Gordon to escape with a yellow card for handling outside his box, with Benitez chasing down a long ball, as the home crowd bayed for red. But the job was done.

Source: SKY_Sports


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