Birmingham City 1 Sunderland 1
He sat on the substitutes' bench for 75 minutes, introspective and calm, but Dudley Campbell had a destiny. When he headed home Birmingham City's 90th-minute equaliser here last night, to secure a point against Sunderland, he exuded all the enthusiasm and confidence that his team had lacked for most of the match.
In some respects, this was a draw that felt like a victory, and it owed much to changes made by Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, in the latter stages when Sunderland seemed in control.
Only at St Andrew's can a draw in one home match be greeted with more joy than the victory in the previous encounter here. As Mark Halsey blew the final whistle last night, the stadium shook as if something significant had been achieved. Contrast that with the muted reaction to the victory at home to Stoke City on February 11, when it looked as though Birmingham were ready to self-destruct.
But promotion is about grinding out results, grinding out points, even when the overall performance is not necessarily impressive. Sunderland did enough to win this match but they did not bank on Birmingham's urgency in the final stages, and there was a feeling of inevitability about Campbell's goal.
Birmingham missed the chance to move to the top of the Coca-Cola Championship table but there was something sweet about this point; something unexpected.
With perceptions strong that Damien Johnson was set to be dropped from the starting line-up, the decision was made easy for Bruce when the midfield player was ruled out with a hamstring injury. Given the enforced change, Birmingham opted for more creativity, with Sebastian Larsson on the right of midfield and Gary McSheffrey on the left.
Interestingly, given the lack of enthusiasm among many Birmingham fans for Johnson, his absence actually made the team more vulnerable. It was Sunderland, clearly more balanced, who dictated the early pace, with Bruno N'Gotty at right back particularly uncomfortable for Birmingham.
Sunderland built their team around Dwight Yorke, the former Birmingham and Aston Villa striker, but his mere presence in midfield was enough to arouse bitterness among the home supporters. Yorke never stayed with Birmingham long enough to be considered anything more than a former Villa player. By contrast, another former Birmingham striker, Stern John, was welcomed back to St Andrew's with more affection.
Sunderland looked assured in defence, composed in midfield, and dynamic|on|the|flanks.
It was no surprise that they took the initiative early on and they should have scored in the 12th minute when David Connolly, unmarked inside the penalty area, struck the ball hard and low that brought a decent save out of Colin Doyle.
From the resulting corner, Connolly again found space inside the 18-yard box but this time his volley at the far post lacked accuracy and bounced over the crossbar.
But this was merely a prelude to the goal, in the 27th minute, that emphasised Sunderland's superiority.
Carlos Evans made ground from his position in midfield and, surprised to find a gap open up in front of him, he struck a fierce shot from outside the penalty area that flew home, beyond the flailing arms of Doyle.
While one could praise the dexterity of Evans, he was aided by lax defending by Birmingham, who struggled to deal with Sunderland's movement off the ball and pace down the flanks. By contrast, Birmingham's passing lacked authority and the gap between the midfield and the forwards seemed to grow as the half wore on.
Birmingham barely created a chance in the first half and their strikers, Cameron Jerome and Nicklas Bendtner, became increasingly frustrated as Sunderland set about their cause with arrogant ease.
It would have been worse for Birmingham had Martin Taylor, their improving centre back, not performed so well, or had Doyle not made so many good saves.
The early stages of the second half followed a similar pattern: pace and inventiveness from Sunderland, fear and uncertainty from Birmingham. It did nothing to ease concerns around St Andrew's, where patience is diminishing.
It was difficult to see how Sunderland could maintain the momentum and, when they lost it, they found Birmingham willing to make a contribution.
McSheffrey was not short of enthusiasm and it was from his cross, in the 54th minute, that Larsson found space inside the penalty area. Larsson's shot was decent enough but Marton Fulop in the Sunderland goal produced a comfortable save.
Sunderland were stretched again on the hour mark, this time on Birmingham's right flank. After good work by Jerome, Larsson's cross was pushed out by Fulop but Bendtner's shot was blocked by Nyron Nosworthy.
With Birmingham in need of inspiration, Bruce made a double substitution in the 75th minute. Unlike the reaction when Bruce made a change during the match at home to Stoke City when the home supporters expressed incredulity, this time the response was one of approval. On came Rowan Vine for Bendtner and Neil Danns for Fabrice Muamba, and so Birmingham's urgency increased.
And it came to pass that Birmingham equalised in the final minute with a headed goal by DJ Campbell after a cross-shot by Vine. Given Birmingham's efforts in the final five minutes, they deserved a goal. But Sunderland should have had the match sewn up by then.
Scorers: Edwards (27), 0-1; Campbell (90), 1-1.
BIRMINGHAM CITY: (4-4-2): Doyle; N'Gotty (Campbell, 83), Jaidi, Martin Taylor, Sadler; Larsson, Muamba (Danns, 75), Clemence, McSheffrey; Bendtner (Vine, 75), Jerome. Substitutes: Maik Taylor, Nafti.
SUNDERLAND: (4-4-2): Fulop; Simpson (Miller, 58), Nosworthy, Collins, Evans; Whitehead, Yorke (Hysen, 64), Edwards, Stokes (Leadbitter, 85); Connolly, John. Substitutes not used: Ward, Wallace.
Referee: M Halsey (Bolton)
Bookings: Birmingham - N'Gotty, McSheffrey (fouls).