Mick McCarthy's summing-up was stark, honest and entirely accurate. "Two poor teams playing poor football," Sunderland's manager said.
That one "poor team" was his responsibility seemed momentarily to slip his mind. Perhaps he was distracted. According to reports, the Friday evening he spent with his chairman, Bob Murray, and respective wives in a Newcastle restaurant ended with McCarthy grappling with a glass-wielding assailant, supposed to have been a disgruntled Sunderland fan.
Murray has lodged a complaint with police. He sustained a facial injury and his wife suffered an eye injury. The police have advised Murray, McCarthy, their wives, and the club not to comment on the incident.
McCarthy was at least able to be frank over his team's performance. "After Birmingham scored we were gutless, an embarrassment," he said.
Both McCarthy and the Birmingham City manager, Steve Bruce, will be looking over their shoulders now that the Portsmouth chairman, Milan Mandaric, has fired the starting gun in the sack race. Unlike the Pompey manager, Alain Perrin, both can claim to be owed a degree of loyalty for winning promotion, McCarthy only last season. Bruce's triumph is less fresh in the mind but until now he has made a respectable fist of the Premiership.
Likewise, both have seen their plans wrecked by injuries, although Bruce seems to have the greater grounds for complaint. Losing Muzzy Izzet, David Dunn, Stan Lazaridis and Mikael Forsell for the best part of a year strikes one as a bigger handicap than managing without Stephen Wright, Julio Arca, George McCartney and Kevin Kyle.
The problem for McCarthy is his back-up. Players such as Liam Lawrence, Dean Whitehead and Andy Welsh, all plucked from the lower divisions, are struggling to cope. "I'm not knocking them," he said. "They got us where we want to be. But how many Second Division players can go straight into the Premiership? They might be in a Premiership squad and individually they could all contribute but while I'm having to put them all in together we're finding it tough."
For Birmingham, Dunn returned for his first start in almost a year. As he and others tired, Bruce was able to bring on Walter Pandiani, Jermaine Pennant and Julian Gray. The trio combined to score the decisive goal, Pennant supplying the cross from which Pandiani's header was parried, Gray following up to score.
"In my team they would have been on at the start," a rueful McCarthy said.
Goal: J Gray (67) 0-1.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Alnwick; Nosworthy, Breen, D Collins, Hoyte; Miller, Whitehead, Bassila (A Gray, 85), Welsh (Lawrence, 45); Stead, Le Tallec (Brown 58). Substitutes not used: Davis (gk), Caldwell.
Birmingham City (4-5-1): Vaesen; Melchiot, Martin Taylor, Cunningham, Upson; Johnson, Izzet, Jarosik (Pandiani, 45), Kilkenny (Pennant, 58), Dunn (J Gray, 64); Heskey. Substitutes not used: Maik Taylor (gk), Clemence.
Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Pennant.
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