Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Box Clever Cats Sucker-Punched

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Box Clever Cats Sucker-Punched

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Gilder

Frank Bruno will be the guest of honour tomorrow evening at the first in a series of sporting dinners to be staged at St Andrew's. But of all the punches thrown by the legendary heavyweight during his colourful career, it is unlikely any hurt as much as the blow sustained by Sunderland in the West Midlands last night.

Having pummeled Birmingham to the brink of submission in a match of vital importance to the promotion prospects of both clubs, the Black Cats were struck by a classic sucker-punch as a one-sided contest entered its final round.

DJ Campbell's 90th-minute equaliser spared Blues blushes and preserved the four-point margin between the two teams. It was a devastating denouement. It was also a wasted opportunity for Roy Keane's men, whose bid to win automatic promotion suffered significant damage when Campbell stabbed the ball past Marton Fulop. It remains to be seen whether it will prove to be a knockout blow, but it clearly has not helped.

Had they held on, Sunderland would be one point behind Birmingham this morning and just four points short of top-of-the-table Derby, their next opponents. But having failed to finish off a side there for the taking, the Black Cats were punished in cruel fashion and still have much ground to make up.

Carlos Edwards had driven the visitors into a spectacular first-half lead and, for long stages, it looked as though it would not be a case of whether the Wearsiders would win, but by how many. Yet chances were not converted and the home side's late pressure told. It was a far cry from the opening hour when, inspired by an out-of-position Anthony Stokes, Sunderland battered Birmingham.

If the pounds 2m Irishman prefers to play through the middle, he was determined to ensure his left-wing deployment did not curb his attacking instincts, and it was Stokes who produced the game's first attempt on goal when he fired a fourth-minute effort just past Colin Doyle's left-hand upright.

He might be more predator than provider but Stokes demonstrated a desire to open doors for others, and an exquisite pass for David Connolly moments later prompted panic in the home ranks. It has been Connolly's fine form that has limited Stokes' involvement since his arrival from Falkirk, and he was Sunderland's greatest threat as the visitors piled on the pressure.

Three times in four minutes, Keane's leading scorer was close to increasing his total.

Having bent a 10th-minute free-kick over Doyle's crossbar, Connolly was denied soon after when the home keeper flung himself to his right to push an accurate effort around his post. From the subsequent corner, the striker's shot cannoned off the turf and just cleared the target. In contrast, Birmingham's threat was negligible.

With Nyron Nosworthy a commanding defensive presence alongside the impeccable Jonny Evans, the home side were second best by some distance. …

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