Charlton Athletic 2 Birmingham City 0: Upbeat Bruce spies hope as City fall in the Valley of gloom

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The future does not ostensibly look good for Steve Bruce and his club, but what do we know? The Birmingham manager reacted as if his side had won this turgid battle and said: "I am not going to be downbeat. We could not have played any better and I am convinced we'll be OK if we play like that."

Defeat leaves Birmingham firmly in the Premiership relegation zone and aside from a few good touches from Chris Sutton on his return to Premiership football, there were not many signs of hope at The Valley, where only the three newly promoted teams had lost so far this season. Bruce, however, must have seen his side play some really duff stuff this season. Yes, Birmingham had a lot of the ball, but they created only two half-decent chances and conceded two sloppy goals.

Charlton were no better as a relieved Alan Curbishley agreed. He said: "Steve will feel hard done by and that his team could not have played much better. I did not feel comfortable at all throughout the 90 minutes.

"We gave the ball away too much up front, but defended like our lives depended on it and that is what we had to do. We had to be dogged, gritty and all of those horrible words, but what else can you do? I make no apologies for grinding out some results.

"We realised a couple of weeks ago we're in the scrap too after our excellent start to the season. Maybe a few good results will give us the confidence to have a good end of the season instead of the lights going out in March like they usually do for us."

Bruce, meanwhile, feels he finally has his strongest side and squad together for the first time this season, primed to win the battle against relegation. Yet they rarely troubled the Charlton keeper Thomas Myrhe. Next up for Birmingham are fellow strugglers Portsmouth, who have the financial muscle to try buying their way out of trouble. Bruce said: "Portsmouth are a worry. They spent about £10 million last week while I had to sell Walter Pandiani to raise funds." Bruce hopes to sign Charlton's striker Jason Euell this week butTuesday's FA Cup replay against Torquay could be crucial.

"I am not taking my excellent relationship with the board for granted," Bruce added, "but I think they understand my injury problems. I had high expectations for this season, so the pressure is coming from myself." Two Premiership teams desperately searching for form and quality were never likely to serve up a cracker, and the star attraction was possibly Sutton. As the country's most expensive player, he was a title winner at Blackburn, a £10m flop at Chelsea and most recently won fistfuls of silverware at Celtic. Birmingham have snapped him up on a free transfer - the best signing of the January window according to Bruce - until the end of the season. He looked very much at home at this level, using his height and heading ability to set up Jiri Jarosik with a chance early on. The on-loan Russian midfielder went even closer following another Sutton knock-down.

But the England one-cap wonder missed his one decent chance, late on, unlike Charlton's tiny midfielder Bryan Hughes, who headed in against his former team-mates from a 29th-minute Dennis Rommedahl corner. "That sums our season up," Bruce said. "We're a team of giants."

As Birmingham pressed for an equaliser, the defender Mario Melchiot was found wanting for pace when Darren Bent got Charlton out of potential trouble by scoring his 14th goal of the season at the death.