Emile Heskey kept an injury-plagued Birmingham City's survival hopes alive with the only goal of a dour, uninspiring encounter. The former England striker's first-half header not only decided the outcome of this ugly dogfight, but also ensured a valuable double for Steve Bruce in the six-pointers against Mick McCarthy's outfit this season.
But Bruce, frustrated by a succession of injuries was in no mood to celebrate. Instead, he reflected on three more injuries that disrupted his team's performance and their hopes of climbing out of trouble.
"We lost two more before half-time - Chris Sutton and Damien Johnson and then Muzzy Izzet afterwards - and that's been the story of our season so far," he said. "In 10 years doing this job, I think this is the most difficult period I have known to be a manager. Of course the points won today are important, but I need all my players available to have a decent chance of performing well on the run-in."
The decisive goal came after 39 minutes of a moribund opening period. Nyron Nosworthy was cautioned for tripping Jiri Jarosik and from the resultant free-kick, Jermaine Pennant flighted the ball to the far post where Heskey rose impressively and scored from six yards.
It was the brightest moment during a game of little colour and one felt sympathy for Nicky Butt when he was introduced during the first half. Predictably, following his tantrum recently, the crowd gave him some abuse. He reacted with calmness and helped to prompt some of the better passages as Birmingham attempted in vain to dismantle a stubborn Sunderland.
The visitors offered little as a threat and their goalkeeper Kelvin Davis made the best save of the second half to tip over from David Dunn. That effort condemned the home supporters to a nail-biting finale.Reuse content