Bent 5, 11, Campbell 88
BIRMINGHAM CITY 1
Darren Bent grabbed a first half brace as Sunderland all but guaranteed their Premier League status after a hard fought victory over Birmingham City at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats – cruelly denied in the dying minutes against Manchester City last week – could not have asked for a better start as Bent powered an effort past Joe Hart after only five minutes. The lead was doubled when the England hopeful was put through by Steed Malbranque and fired another left footed strike past the rattled Birmingham goalkeeper. The game opened up with both sides missing guilt edged chances with Cameron Jerome particularly wasteful. However, Jerome made up for his profligacy by converting against Craig Gordon on the hour mark. The Blues piled on the pressure against a tense Sunderland but they were unable to find a way past Gordon for a second time. Frazier Campbell made sure all three points were heading back to Wearside after tapping in sub Jordan Henderson’s cross.
Sunderland were on top in the first half – particularly the first 20 minutes and Bent was once again in fine finishing form. Sunderland would probably be in the relegation zone if it was not for Bent and it would be a farce if he was not selected to go to the World Cup. Campbell was impressive also and seems to have gained a lot of confidence recently flourishing in a wider role. Gordon was the difference between the two sides, making five world class stops and it seems he is finally beginning to show why Roy Keane paid £9m for him. Hart was also in good form – Birmingham could have been out of the game by half time if he had not made impressive saves to deny Campbell and Richardson and should definitely be one of the three keepers heading to South Africa.
Birmingham dominated the second half and really should have got something out of the game. Jerome was a threat all afternoon – if he works on his finishing he could have a bright future ahead of him. He took his goal well and showed a lot of confidence not to let the earlier misses affect his game. Sunderland were getting very anxious towards the end of the game, especially when they lost Mensah to injury and had Gordon not been in the form he was the result could have been different. The victory should see Sunderland safe as the teams amongst the bottom three will have to produce something very special – and Sunderland something very awful – to see the Black Cats relegated. Steve Bruce did target a mid-table finish at the start of the year and if they keep their recent form going there is no reason why they cannot reach that goal. Birmingham have had a fantastic season – Alex McLeish has done an outstanding job and could be an outside candidate for manager of the year. From the games they have left they could make an outside dash for one of the Europa League spots, a just reward for a fantastic season.