Birmingham City took a huge leap towards Premier League safety with a hard-fought win over Sunderland.
Meanwhile, Steve Bruce’s men are in danger of being dragged into the relegation battle, and are now without a win in nine games.
Birmingham kicked off at a fast pace and, in only the second minute, Cameron Jerome broke clear only to see his shot saved by the legs of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Sunderland could have gone ahead in the 15th minute had it not been for some brave goalkeeping and last-ditch defending.
Lee Cattermole robbed Barry Ferguson on the edge of the box and advanced on goal, but Ben Foster did well to dive at his feet before the loose ball was crossed to Stephane Sessegnon, whose goal-bound effort was blocked on the line by Roger Johnson.
However, a superb piece of opportunism gave Birmingham the lead four minutes from half-time.
A long kick by Foster was flicked on by Jerome and Sunderland’s Mignolet and Phil Bardsley got themselves in a mix up, enabling Seb Larsson to steal in and poke the ball into an empty net.
Foster then denied Asamoah Gyan an equaliser within two minutes, diving to his left to save the curling effort.
Jordan Henderson nearly levelled for the Black Cats six minutes into the second half, finishing off a fine three-man, one-touch move which saw his curling shot brush the side netting.
Foster had to be alert again, first diving low to parry Cattermole’s drive, then tipping over a Danny Welbeck header.
But Birmingham weathered the storm and doubled their lead in the 66th minute. Substitute Alexander Hleb laid the ball square to Craig Gardner, who smashed home from 25 yards out.
Substitute Matt Derbyshire had the chance in injury time to make victory even more emphatic when latching on to Hleb’s through ball, but he dragged his shot wide.
The result puts Birmingham ahead of Sunderland on goal difference with both teams level on 38 points, Sunderland having played a game more.
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