Carling Cup Third Round: Sunderland 2 Birmingham City 0
The only two players who will remember this Carling Cup tie in years to come will be Birmingham City teenagers Ashley Sammons and Dan Preston.
Central midfielder Sammons and defender Preston, both only 17, made their first-team debuts at the Stadium of Light, the former played the entirety. A senior debut is always memorable for any professional footballer.
However for the rest of Alex McLeish’s squad, or indeed Steve Bruce’s, this third-round match won’t live long in the memory banks as a weakened, virtually reserve, Birmingham side exited with barely a whimper.
A strong Sunderland line-up strolled to a 2-0 victory in front of their own fans, but it could have quite easily been double that scoreline if not more.
From the moment Jordan Henderson fired the Black Cats into a fourth minute lead, there was never any doubt that it would be the Wearsiders who would be in the hat for the next round. Frazier Campbell made it two with a 23rd minute header and it was game over.
Despite being dogged by a horrendous injury situation, McLeish still managed to make six changes to the side that won at Hull City on Saturday. The most notable face in the Birmingham line-up was that of Liam Ridgewell, who made an incredible return from a broken leg sustained less than five months ago, as a makeshift left-back.
Elsewhere veteran Maik Taylor took his place between the sticks, centre-back Giovanny Espinoza and Jay O’Shea were handed a chance to impress (the former certainly didn’t) while Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips started as captain up front at his former stomping ground.
However, with so many first-team players out injured, this match immediately had the feel of a friendly fixture as a weak Birmingham side appeared to just be going through the motions.
It was certainly akin to a casual training ground run-out for a far superior Sunderland outfit during the first-half, while the home fans attempted to entertain themselves with a failed attempt at a Mexican wave.
For the opener, Kenwyne Jones’ cross from the right found unmarked Henderson charging through the centre and the former Coventry City loanee directed his effort into the left-hand corner, despite the best efforts of Taylor.
Sunderland looked certain to extend their lead further; Campbell nodded narrowly over the crossbar before setting up Jones moments later, the Trinidad and Tobago striker showed a great touch before watching his close range effort rebound off the legs of Taylor, Stuart Parnaby hurting himself, fortunately not seriously, in the process of clearing the danger.
However the home side duly did double their lead in the 23rd minute as Campbell casually rose between Scott Dann and Ridgewell in the six-yard box to nod in Sunderland’s second with ease.
Birmingham conjured very few efforts during the first-half, the best being a stinging Gary McSheffrey shot from 20 yards that fizzed past bored Craig Gordon’s left-hand post in the 19th minute.
The Black Cats could have had the game completely dead and buried by the break but Kieran Richardson watched his teasing cross agonisingly roll along Taylor’s upright.
Two unchanged sides took to the field for the second-half and it continued in the same vein as the preceding 45 minutes.
The consistently impressive Andy Reid and Sunderland captain Lorik Cana both had decent efforts cleared while John Mensah looked to have made it 3-0 on his first start for the Wearsiders. The Ghanaian centre-half scrambled home from close range after a melee in the area, but the effort was disallowed for an infringement on Taylor by Jones.
Matchwinner on Saturday, Garry O’Connor, had a decent effort blocked from 16 yards by Mensah but Sunderland remained comfortable.
Keith Fahey and Lee Bowyer were introduced to give Birmingham’s midfield more bite and the calm-headed Barry Ferguson a well-earned rest. Yet it failed to make any real difference on the outlook of this game.
Not only are Birmingham’s Carling Cup hopes over for another season but to make matters worse they appear to have another injury to add to their ever-growing list.
Parnaby was stretchered off with what appeared to be a nasty knee injury in the 80th minute, to make way for Preston.
An unwanted end to a forgettable night.
Scorers: Henderson (4), Campbell (23)
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Gordon; Da Silva, Mensah, Turner, Richardson; Malbranque (Healy, 74), Henderson, Cana (Nosworthy, 86), Reid; Jones (Murphy, 80), Campbell. Substitutes: Carson, Ferdinand, Bardsley, Bent.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Parnaby (Preston, 80), Espinoza, Dann, Ridgewell; O’Shea (Bowyer, 63), Ferguson (Fahey, 63), Sammons, McSheffrey; Phillips, O’Connor. Substitutes: Subs: Doyle, R Johnson, Chucho.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
Bookings: Blues – Espinoza, Preston (both fouls)
Birmingham man of the match: Scott Dann – winning margin would have been much more had it not been for the summer signing.