SUNDERLAND will spend Christmas in the Championship’s relegation zone after failing to see off bottom club Birmingham City at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats were unable to see off Steve Cotterill’s City, who battled until the end even though they have collected just two points all season on their travels and played the final 23 minutes with ten men.

Birmingham’s goalscorer Sam Gallagher, who had put the visitors ahead in the 16th minute, was red carded for a second caution deep in the second half when it looked as if Sunderland could go on and win it.

But Chris Coleman’s players were unable to conjure up that crucial second after Lewis Grabban had grabbed his 12th goal of the campaign just five minutes after Gallagher’s opener.

Without the negative vibes that have been around before previous matches on certain occasions over the last few months, it was hoped the same set of players that overcame Fulham would deliver again.

The only change to the entire 18 was the return of full-back Bryan Oviedo to the bench for Brendan Galloway, while Lee Cattermole was still absent after being ruled out for a month with calf tear.

Sunderland started fresh and lively enough too. Pushing on a couple of times in the opening exchanges, they should have been ahead when Grabban arrived in the penalty area to meet Donald Love’s perfect low delivery into the area. The finish went wide.

Less than seven minutes later Birmingham made them pay for that. George Honeyman lost possession in the middle and a ball over the top was immediately played for Gallagher to run onto.

The dangerous forward held off Marc Wilson, who did well to block a first attempt, and then applied a finish from a rebound into an empty net with goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter wrong-footed.

Ruiter had already made an excellent early stop to deny Jonathan Grounds’ header, while he also had to be alert and strong at his near post when Gallagher threatened a second when he cleverly flicked Jota’s cross.

By that time Sunderland had levelled. When Grabban controlled a ball in the Birmingham box, he clipped a pass to Love before sprinting towards goal. That was where the striker was on hand to turn in Love’s volley to grab his 12th of the season.

But Sunderland did not do enough in the final third, with an over-reliance on the wing-backs and Birmingham’s backline were comfortable more often than not. Ruiter made the other good save of the half when he got down low to stop Jota’s 20-yard effort.

After the restart there was a low drive from range that basically trickled inches wide of the up right from James Vaughan, while Honeyman’s clipped cross-cum-shot to the back post was tipped over by David Stockdale.

And, despite improvements and a greater spell of pressure, the younger and quicker legs of Maja and Asoro, along with Didier Ndong, were introduced again to mix things up – particularly after Gallagher’s red card for a second caution, fouling Vaughan.

When Maja was pulled back as he raced onto a ball over the top, Sunderland looked like they might score. Harlee Dean pulled him back but only received a caution. Adam Matthews’ free-kick rolled straight into Stockdale.

And that was basically that.

SUNDERLAND (5-3-2): Ruiter; Love, O’Shea, Browning, Wilson, Matthews; Gibson (Ndong 74); Honeyman, Gooch; Grabban (Asoro 74), Vaughan (Maja 74). Subs (not used): Steele (gk), Oviedo, McGeady, McManaman.

BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-3-3): Stockdale; Colin, Morrison, Dean, Grounds; Gardner, Kieftenbeld, Ndoye (Jutkiewicz 86); Jota (Davis 79), Gallagher, Boga (Maghoma 79). Subs (not used): Trueman, Nsue, Bramall, Gleeson.