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Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Matchday Musings: Sunderland not at their best, but get the job done against Wazza’s lads

Winning when you’re not as your best is usually a good sign of things to come - and Sunderland showed their quality when it mattered against Birmingham City on Saturday.

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

You can usually work out which version of Sunderland you’re going to get by the way we start a game, and starting the match against Birmingham at full pelt was always going to be the key to any success we’d find.

After all, the Blues have started life under the management of Wayne Rooney horribly and our job was to make things even worse. With their confidence on the floor, harnessing that by scoring early in the game and making their task even tougher was important.

Thankfully, Sunderland started well and whilst it wasn’t a totally straight run towards the finish line for Tony Mowbray’s mackems, our quality shone through in the end and we sent Wazza back to the black country with his tail between his legs and with another L on the board.

Despite the curveball of losing Dennis Cirkin in the pre-match warm up, we really were brilliant in the opening twenty minutes, and having come close through a Nazariy Rusyn rocket which hit the post - oh, how desperately I wish he’d scored - our pressure eventually paid off when a well-worked corner routine was finished off by the one person on the pitch that Birmingham fans wanted to see celebrating a goal.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Rusyn’s clever flick-on from the cross found itself at the feet of Jobe Bellingham, whose first time finish found its way past John Ruddy and into the roof of the net to give Sunderland the lead over his old team - his celebrations, understandably, were muted, but it was one in the eye for all those at Birmingham who doubted him for making the move to Wearside in the summer.

After the goal Sunderland were good - with Jobe coming close once again with a shot into the ground which hit the frame of the goal - but we then began to take their foot off the peddle, and sloppiness started creeping in.

Giving Birmingham a chance to get back into the game was only going to end one way, and they took full advantage of Sunderland’s poor play when they nabbed the equaliser.

Having lost possession in the centre of the park through Pierre Ekwah, a decent move was finished off by Japan international Koji Miyoshi, whose finish was expertly executed and there was very little that Anthony Patterson could have done about it.

Adding to the annoyance was the referee, who repeatedly let Juninho Bacuna get away with fouls on Patrick Roberts that were definitely yellows in anyone’s book - except his, apparently. After the third time of being fouled, Roberts was rather laughably booked for taking out his frustrations on the advertising hoardings.

We went into half time level, but a chance to get our heads together during the break was taken full advantage of.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

We started the second period fairly well, and the defence looked much more settled than it had in the opening 45 minutes. This allowed the lads at the top end of the pitch to flourish, and in the end they got the job done.

Our second goal which got us back ahead was from yet another set piece move, and we probably have Trai Hume to thank for keeping the ball in play when it seemed like everyone else had given up on it. Another short corner was whipped to the back post, and with it seemingly flying out of play, Hume stretched to head it back across goal and over John Ruddy - that combined with the determination of Nectar Triantis led to a touch from Dion Sanderson sending the ball across the line. Not quite the present he was hoping to give to Sunderland on his return to the club he once had a successful spell on loan with.

We made a bunch of changes from the bench - some of them which made sense, some of them which didn’t - but it kept us fresh at the top end of the pitch and allowed us to kill the game off.

Niall Huggins - who was by far the best player on the pitch all afternoon - did well to win the ball in the centre of the park and fed it to Jack Clarke, who almost gave up possession but somehow rescued it and skinned his man before delivering an inch perfect cross which substitute Adil Aouchiche got on the end of and sent into the back of the net. Game over.

It was far from the best whistle-to-whistle Sunderland performance we’ve ever seen but we dealt with the adversity of losing some key defenders ahead of this game fairly well, and showed our quality when it mattered. That to me is the mark of a good team, and I said the same after we played Queens Park Rangers - when you get promotion or a top six finish, these are the wins and performances that really matter, where you haven’t been at your best but have still managed to get the three points.

With the international break coming up, we’ve got two weeks to wait til the next game - thank god that we haven’t gone into it having lost.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

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