Birmingham 2 - 0 Sunderland
Steve Bruce said that the "overall performance was good" despite suffering another defeat at the hands of Birmingham as pressure continued to increase on the Black Cats manager. In a game that was considered crucial to Sunderland's season, the side were let down by arguably one of the most consistent performers of the season.
Simon Mignolet's two errors proved costly for the Black Cats in a game where the side's strikers once again failed to take their chances. The game for Mignolet had started brightly enough: He saved well from Cameron Jerome on two minutes after the striker had comfortably outpaced the still seemingly unfit Turner.
Sunderland's first real chance came when a Ferguson mistake allowed Cattermole to run through and although he was well blocked by Foster, the resulting rebound fell straight to Seesegnon who saw his shot cleared off the line by Stephen Carr.
The next major incident came just before the interval when a flcik on by Jerome was not dealt with by Bardsley nor the on-charging Mignolet and Larsson had the easy job of finishing underneath hapless keeper. The goal seemed to sum up the run Sunderland were on: A chance which they would have comfortably dealt with earlier in the season had now cost them the game.
Sunderland rallied hard in the second half, and it looked like Bruce had finally managed to motivate his players. Henderson flashed a shot just wide after some lovely exchanges between himself, Gyan and Welbeck was followed by a good Foster save from a low Cattermole drive. But, just as the Black Cats looked like finally putting their woes to bed, they were let down again by Mignolet. Gardener's low 25 yard effort was hardly hit well, but Mignolet could only get a weak hand onto the shot and was helpless to stop Birmingham killing the game. After, Sunderland lost their fight, and the game went with it.
Firstly, there were a few positives to come out of the game. Sunderland's play at the start of the second half was arguably the best football they've played since Stoke. Birmingham looked stretched to their limits and a goal looked seemingly inevitable until Mignolet failed to keep out Gardener's speculative effort.
Secondly, there was the performance of the midfield. Henderson looked more at home out on the wing, taking on Parnaby and cutting inside to support the strikers. Cattermole and Colback also fared well against the tough tackling pairing of Gardener and Ferguson. Cattermole, whilst still not being the same player as we saw last season, had the confidence to press forward and nearly had his first goal in Red and White. Colback, not intimidated by Birmingham's physical presence, was positive on the ball in a solid if unspectacular debut and could prove to be a useful squad player next season.
However, there are still a number of worries for Bruce. The debut pairing of Onouha and Turner, likely to be the partnership for the rest of the season, looked less than convincing. Turner in particular, looked like he had his feet stuck in the ground at times against Jerome, and has either lost pace or is still unfit, I suspect the latter. Secondly, Welbeck and Gyan again looked out of sorts. Bruce has to find a way of motivating his star striker, who looks increasingly disinterested. Sunderland badly miss Bent's work rate up front, as neither Gyan nor Welbeck neither seem to have the energy to chase the ball down and pressure the defenders.
The game against Wigan is now critical with defeat possibly all but ending Bruce's reign. Even with a win, I fear that the dressing room situation may have already became untenable