What a day to have one of those days. Goalkeeping aside, it is tough to fault Sunderland today. Frankly, we battered Birmingham, and deserved considerably more than we got.
We went to St Andrews low on confidence but knowing a win could change everything. What followed was an unfamiliar performance blighted by familiar shortcomings and ended in a soul-destroyingly familiar result.
With injuries once again mounting, Jack Colback got his first Premier League start for Sunderland in central midfield. With the defence especially stretched, Elmohamady moved to full back and there were midfield recalls for Henderson and Sessegnon.
In a nervy start from the visitors, Birmingham looked to take control with Cameron Jerome enjoying the best chance after completely skinning Michael Turner for pace before forcing a fine save from Simon Mignolet. Sadly, that was as good as it was going to get for the Belgian.
As the game matured, so did Sunderland. The midfield energy from Henderson,, Cattermole, Colback, and Sessegnon started to expose the lack of mobility of their Birmingham counterparts, and it was the captain who sparked Sunderland's attacking ambitions into life. Cattermole vigorously pressed and harassed Barry Ferguson into surrendering possession on the edge of the Birmingham box, and although the touch was heavy, it lead to a fine chance for Sessegnon who saw his low shot cleared off the line.
Bouyed by the midfield superiority of his team, Bruce sought to turn the screw and get more people forward. The midfield narrowed and Sessegnon formed an attacking three with Welbeck and Gyan. The tactical switch looked astute, with the visitors continuing to apply pressure to the Blues' defence which was superbly lead by the imperious Roger Johnson. Phil Bardsley saw a now trademark right foot effort swerve narrowly wide of Foster's goal, and Welbeck failed to connect when presented with a chance after Gyan had battled for possession in the Birmingham box.
Just when the screw looked to be tightening, Sunderland suffered the same kind of defensive implosion which has plagued them since the turn of the year. A hopeful long ball was flicked on by Jerome for Sebastian Larson to contest with Bardsley. The Sunderland defender appeared in control, but Mignolet sought to take command of the situation, misjudged it, and Larson nipped between defender and goalkeeper to prod home into the deserted net.
After the break, Sunderland came out with purpose. Welbeck latched onto a ball from Sessegnon but pulled his left-footed shot well wide. Jordan Henderson, looking refreshed and revitalised by his recent rest, started to grow into the game and showed the kind of attacking intent many have felt he has sorely lacked before, and came close to scoring after exchanging passes crisp and incisive passes with Welbeck and Gyan. Cattermole forced a superb save from Foster and Welbeck was unlucky to see his header deflected over.
But fortune would not be kind again. It was Birmingham who found the net with a long range and well-struck drive from Gardner. The swerve was cruel on Mignolet, but he will once again be disappointed not to have kept it out. He got a hand to it, but it was not strong enough. There would be no further rally from Sunderland. Head dropped, and the game played itself out to the inevitable conclusion of a home win. This one was done and dusted.
22 Mignolet - 3/10 - Should have done considerably better with both.
02 Bardsley - 6/10 - Solid performance, slightly tainted by mix-up for opener.
04 Turner -5/10 - The defensive weak link today. Doesn't look over his injury. "Qu'elle surprise".
06 Cattermole - 6/10 - Standard fare from the skipper. Good without the ball, poor with it.
10 Henderson - 7/10 - Looks to be getting back to his old self. Played well.
15 Onuoha - 6/10 - Comfortable.
17 Welbeck - 6/10 - Struggled with nerves early, but looked most likely to score.
25 Colback - 6/10 - Calm and composed on the ball and combative. Decent full league debut.
27 Elmohamady - 6/10 - A marauding and energetic performance. Untested defensively.
28 Sessegnon - 6/10 - Found some space and had spells of genuine influence. Still an enigma, though.
33 Gyan - 6/10 - Battled for the ball manfully, but failed to influence the game as he can.
08 Malbranque - 5/10 - Failed to make an impact. Game already lost when he came on.
31 Noble - 5/10 - Encouraging, but tough situation in which to judge him.
So that's that, then. Another loss but encouraging signs in the performance. Sets up a hell of a game next week with Wigan. But we Sunderland fans have been brought up and breast fed on such games and we should go into it with no fear. Today was a game we should have won, and deserved to take something from, but other results haven't been disastrous.
Now isn't the time to feel sorry for ourselves. We are Sunderland. Keep the faith.