Black Cats beat Blues
Sunderland beat Birmingham 2-0 at The Stadium of Light to move out of the relegation zone
Last Updated: 29/01/08 10:41pm
Sunderland beat fellow relegation strugglers Birmingham 2-0 at The Stadium of Light to move out of the Premier League bottom three.
Birmingham will rue defensive mistakes which gifted goals to Daryl Murphy and substitute Rade Prica, who scored on his debut.
Murphy's goal on 15 minutes came after Kenwyne Jones headed on a free-kick into the six yard box and Murphy stole in between defenders Rafael Schmitz and Frank Queudrue to score. Schmitz and Queudrue showed uncertainty, while keeper Maik Taylor did not come to collect the ball.
Prica doubled the lead on 65 minutes after latching on to a tame Liam Ridgewell back-header and then lobbing Taylor.
He then had a goal disallowed 11minutes later when he was adjudged to have handed the ball when he bundled it into the net.
The result lifts Sunderland into 14th position in the table, while Birmingham fall to 17th.
Certainly the bulk of the 37,674 fans who turned up at the Stadium of Light on a bitterly cold evening headed home reassured as well as relieved.
Sunderland started the game knowing a fourth home league victory in six attempts would lift them out of the drop zone and deepen Birmingham's problems, and they set about their task in determined fashion.
New £2million signing Phil Bardsley made his debut at right-back, but it was Jones who once again led by example as he put central defenders Liam Ridgewell and Rafael Schmitz to the sternest of tests.
The Trinidad and Tobago international was simply too hot to handle, and while he initially appeared to have left his shooting boots behind, the attention the visitors had to pay to him inevitably created space for others.
Anthony Stokes, playing wide on the left-hand side of midfield, and Murphy were the main beneficiaries as the Black Cats set about the task of breaking down the visitors.
Jones' reward for his early exertions was not to find his name on the scoresheet once again, but when the opening goal did arrive with 15 minutes gone, he inevitably had a major hand in it.
The towering striker easily climbed high above the Birmingham defence to head down Bardsley's deep free-kick, where the waiting Murphy, gleefully stabbed his shot past Taylor from six yards with no blue shirt in a position to do anything about it.
It might have been 2-0 on 28 minutes had Stokes' cross been a foot closer to Jones as he raced in on goal leaving defenders in his wake, and skipper Dean Whitehead and Liam Miller both threatened with late runs into the box as City wilted.
However, with the second goal having failed to arrive, the Black Cats were served with a timely warning six minutes before the break.
Jerome, handed the task of forming a new-look frontline with £5million signing James McFadden, ran clear of the home defence to collect Ridgewell's long ball, and only a fine save from £9million Gordon denied him.
Keane made a change at the break when he sent on £2million signing Prica in place of the struggling Yorke, but his side was under pressure again within seconds.
City midfielder Olivier Kapo picked up the ball wide on the left and drilled in a powerfully-struck shot which had Gordon diving anxiously to his right as the ball sped past the post.
There was a scare for the home side on 64 minutes when Nyron Nosworthy's header back to Gordon gave Jerome enough encouragement to follow the ball in, although his challenge on the keeper resulted only in a free-kick.
However, Ridgewell was not so fortunate at the other end when he too failed to put enough on a header back to Taylor and Prica could scracely believe his fortune and he raced in to lift the ball over the goalkeeper to mark his debut with a precious goal.
He might have doubled his tally had referee Mark Halsey not chalked off a 76th-minute effort for handball as he bundled home a deep cross with the City defence in disarray.
Birmingham fought desperately for a way back into the game, but with the home side repeatedly hitting them on the counter, never looked like rescuing the game.
Indeed, had Taylor not pulled off a solid reaction save three minutes from time, Prica would have collected his second with a bullet header at the back post three minutes from time as a remarkable first appearance drew to a close.