Bellingham steers Sunderland towards Blues win | Rooney: We are improving11 November 2023
Wayne Rooney's wait for a first win as Birmingham boss continues after the Blues crashed to a 3-1 defeat to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Rooney's struggling side battled their way back into the game after conceding an early opener to former Birmingham youngster Jobe Bellingham, with Koji Miyoshi levelling the scores towards the end of the first half.
However, Sunderland were the better side for the majority of the contest, and after Dion Sanderson's own goal restored the home side's lead, Adil Aouchiche made the game safe with a close-range finish 14 minutes from time.
Sunderland suffered a pre-match blow when Dennis Cirkin was injured during the warm-up, necessitating the promotion of summer signing Nectarios Triantis to the starting line-up for his first league start since his summer move from Australia.
The last-minute switch did not appear to disrupt the Black Cats, however, as they dominated the early stages with Nazariy Rusyn smashing an 11th-minute shot against the post after turning neatly in the area.
Six minutes later, and the deadlock was broken as Sunderland scored from a set-piece. Jack Clarke swung in a corner from the left, Rusyn helped the ball on with a flicked header, and Bellingham volleyed home from the edge of the six-yard box.
Bellingham left Birmingham to join Sunderland in the summer, and the 18-year-old, who is the younger brother of England and Real Madrid star Jude, almost doubled his tally midway through the first half.
Bellingham swivelled smartly after Patrick Roberts' corner was allowed to pass deep into the penalty area, but he scuffed his shot and the ball struck the same post that had been hit by Rusyn a few minutes earlier.
Birmingham were struggling at that stage, but the visitors battled their way back into things and gradually began to create chances of their own.
Niall Huggins hacked off his own goal-line to prevent Jay Stansfield from bundling home, but the home defence was breached on the half-hour mark.
Pierre Ekwah conceded possession, and after Stansfield crossed from the right, no one tracked the run of Miyoshi, who swept home a clinical first-time finish.
With the game remaining extremely open, chances continued to flow in the second half.
A brilliant last-ditch tackle from Birmingham defender Emanuel Aiwu prevented Rusyn getting a shot away, but the weight of Sunderland's pressure told as they regained the lead just before the hour mark.
A short-corner routine ended with Roberts crossing from the right, with full-back Trai Hume keeping the ball alive at the back post as he looped a header over goalkeeper John Ruddy.
Triantis slid in with Aiwu on the goal-line, and after a series of ricochets, the final touch appeared to come off Sanderson before the ball ended up in the back of the net.
Sunderland made the game safe with 14 minutes left as Clarke did brilliantly to create space to slide over a low cross from the left, with substitute Aouchiche breaking ahead of his marker to turn home from close range.
Sunderland's Tony Mowbray:
"It's frustrating with Dennis, obviously, but it's great for Nectar. I'm delighted that him coming in has worked out so well.
"Nectar's an amazing young man. I don't know whether he came over expecting to get straight into Sunderland's team and play, but with Luke O'Nien and Dan Ballard doing so well, he's had to sit on the sidelines.
"He's playing with the Under-21s - we sent him to Southampton the other week and he spent seven hours on a bus travelling down there and then seven hours travelling back. Yet he does it all with a smile on his face.
"He knows he's a young footballer who hopefully has a big future at this club, but he also knows where he is in the pecking order at the moment. For him to get chucked in two minutes before kick-off was amazing for him, and I'm so happy for him because he's such a nice kid."
Birmingham's Wayne Rooney:
"The opposition we've played have been very good teams. The first couple of games, I didn't think we were good enough, but there was obviously a lot of information we were trying to get across to the players.
"It was a big change in what they'd been doing, and if you look at the last three games, then as a team, I thought there were positives from Southampton, a lot of positives from Ipswich and then certainly positives again here against Sunderland.
"I've seen improvements, but we obviously need to start improving the results, and I really believe we will. What I'm seeing in training, and what I'm seeing from the players in matches now, is really positive.
"I think this break will help, just in terms of getting the fitness work into them. That's important in terms of how I want my team to play. We're gradually seeing improvement in that, and it's a good opportunity for us now to really spend some time with the players."
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