"I think they'll win the League convincingly," said Birmingham's manager, Trevor Francis, who was thus not too upset at dropping two points.
Yesterday was a day for the leaders to demonstrate grit and stickability against one of the few teams who could still be called promotion rivals, and that was duly achieved. Birmingham will keep right on to the end of the road, but yesterday they took a long time to get among the visitors' defence and even then could not become the first side to penetrate it for some nine hours.
The two half-decent chances they managed came within a minute of each other in the final quarter of a disappointing game. Steve Robinson's shot fell to the full-back Gary Rowett, who contrived to fall over his feet five yards from goal. Watching the re-run in the press-room afterwards, he was sporting enough to join in the laughter.
Francis's declared game-plan was to attack from the start and press Sunderland when they had the ball. Neither element worked well in a match as reluctant to warm up as an afternoon of rain, sleet and snow. The fluorescent yellow ball brightened the gloom, but spent much time in the air. When it fell to earth within shooting range, it tended to be dispatched high or wide of goal, with Birmingham's Peter Ndlovu twice the offender.
"It's a very important second half," exhorted the man on the public-address system as the teams emerged again. He had barely finished his sentence before Michael Gray, the fall-guy who missed the crucial penalty at Wembley, wasted Sunderland's best chance by clipping Michael Bridges's pass past the far post.
Daniele Dichio, who replaced Niall Quinn, also squandered an opportunity in allowing Rowett to redeem himself by clearing his under-hit chip past the goalkeeper. Paul Furlong produced two better efforts without troubling the goalkeeper, but defenders and midfield enforcers were on top. "We're hard to beat," said Reid, in his understated manner.Reuse content