KEVIN PHILLIPS was upstaged on what could be his last appearance at the Stadium of Light by two young players using last nights Carling Cup third round tie to open their own goalscoring accounts for Sunderland.
Phillips, aged 36 and conceding beforehand that this was likely to be his last chance to say farewell to Wearside, was never given an opportunity to show the prowess that earned him 130 goals from 233 appearances during six years at the Stadium of Light.
While Sunderlands postwar record goalscorer was well marshalled at one end, teenager Jordan Henderson and summer signing Fraizer Campbell grabbed their first goals for the Black Cats to secure a place in the fourth round at the expense of Birmingham City.
It took Henderson, born and bred in the city, just four minutes to put Sunderland in front, coolly slotting past goalkeeper Maik Taylor after good work by Kenwyne Jones.
Birmingham never looked capable of forcing an equaliser and, after numerous other chances went begging, Sunderland deservedly added a second in the 23rd minute when Campbell competently leapt high to nod into the net.
Having warned that he will not settle for his players failing to develop a winning mentality in the aftermath of the defeat at Burnley, Bruces decision to replace a few of those who came under the most fire at Turf Moor paid off.
Out went Anton Ferdinand, George McCartney and Phil Bardsley, with the defence given a completely new look with the introduction of John Mensah and Paulo Da Silva, while Kieran Richardson slotted in at left-back.
It was the decision to put Richardson there that handed Henderson the chance to play in the middle and it didnt take him long to vindicate his inclusion.
With 230 seconds on the clock the 19-year-old arrived in the box and turned Jones roll back from the right beyond Birmingham goalkeeper Taylors right hand.
Ged McNamee, the Academy manager who has watched the young midfielder develop, stood up from his seat beaming with pride, as he turned to Hendersons family and friends who were equally buoyant.
This could be a big season for Henderson, who Bruce has become a quick fan of, and he did not disappoint last night after being given the chance to shine in his preferred central role.
Bruce had seen Sunderland start brightly a number of times this season and fail to make their promising openings count. There was no such concerns this time.
Taylor had already been forced to save from Jones before Campbell added the second.
Reid, continuing his renaissance, delivered a perfect centre with his weaker right foot and the £3.5m former Manchester United striker rose largely unattended to head beyond Taylor from close range.
Campbell simply enjoyed the moment. After taking the plaudits from his teammates, he marked his first goal in four starts and eight appearances for the club by kissing his fist and acknowledging the crowd.
Even without the rested Darren Bent, Sunderland had shown they can score and Birmingham could not come to terms with their far superior opponents in any department of the pitch. Yet there was still a sense that Bruces team had not climbed out of third gear.
Nevertheless Richardsons cross from the left shaved the crossbar and Taylor turned a Lorik Cana close range header away for a corner, as Sunderland threatened to be out of sight before the break.
With Mensah, living up to his nickname of The Rock, solid alongside Michael Turner at the back, Craig Gordon was never threatened by Phillips or anyone else for that matter.
The Ghanaian was then unfortunate to see what would have been his first goal for the club chalked off for an infringement in the Birmingham area just before the hour.
A relatively subdued second- half performance allowed Birmingham a few more forays forward, but even then Gordon only had the occasional cross to deal with.
The Carling Cup may not be a priority, but having reached the fourth round for the second year in a row it could soon be time to take the competition seriously.
Matchfacts Goals: Henderson (4, 1-0); Campbell (23, 2-0) Bookings: Espinoza (65, foul); Richardson (77, foul); Preston (90, foul) Referee: Mike Dean (The Wirral) 6 Attendance: 20, 576 Entertainment: ***
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Gordon 6; Da Silva 6, MENSAH 8, Turner 7, Richardson 7; Malbranque 6 (Healy 74), Henderson 7, Cana 7 (Nosworthy 85), Reid 7; Jones 7 (Murphy 80), Campbell 7. Subs: Carson (gk), Ferdinand, Bardsley, Bent.
BIRMINGHAM (4-4-2): Taylor 6; PARNABY 6 (Preston 79), Dann 5, Espinoza 4, Ridgewell 5; OShea 5 (Bowyer 63, 5), Sammons 5, Ferguson 5 (Fahey 63, 5), McShefferey 5; Phillips 5, OConnor 4. Subs: Doyle (gk), Chucho, Johnson.
MAN OF THE MATCH JOHN Mensah the defender won just about everything in the air and never looked ruffled once.