Gabby Agbonlahor scored his first goal in 14 months as Aston Villa ruined Harry Redknapp’s first game in charge of Birmingham City by winning the Second City derby at Villa Park.
Agbonlahor turned sharply in the six-yard box to score a 68th-minute winner after Blues failed to clear a corner.
The visitors wasted their best chance when Che Adams volleyed over from the same spot in the first half.
Blues are only two points above the Championship relegation zone.
Their survival hopes now depend on getting results from their final two matches, at home to Huddersfield on Saturday and then at Bristol City on 7 May.
But if Blackburn, the team below them in 22nd, fail to get more than one point from their final two games and Wigan do not win both of their remaining two games, Blues would be safe anyway.
Villa’s derby win as it happened
Villa’s sixth win in their last seven home league games lifted them to 12th, still within reach of their only realistic target left this season – a top-10 finish.
But, on a day which started with Villa fans remembering one old favourite, Ugo Ehiogu, it was Agbonlahor who ended it with the accolades.
After a well-observed minute’s applause in honour of former Villa and England centre-back Ehiogu, who died on Friday aged 44, the first half was almost totally devoid of incident.
The only real chance was Adams’ close-range left-footed volley, hooked over the bar from Lukas Jutkiewicz’s left-wing cross.
The second half was not a great deal better, but that all changed when Agbonlahor entered the fray on 59 minutes.
Agbonlahor settles the derby
Agbonlahor was booked within three minutes of his arrival after clashing with Ryan Shotton, who was also shown a yellow card, and six minutes later he had scored.
The 30-year-old striker looked to have kicked his last ball for Villa before Bruce’s appointment as manager in October.
Before scoring in one of Villa’s rare Premier League wins last season, against Norwich in February 2016, he had not netted in 11 months.
But he does know how to score in derby games, having found the net against Blues four times previously, including in Bruce’s final game in charge of Blues in November 2007.
Bruce brought him back from the cold in the autumn to come off the bench when the two sides drew 1-1 at St Andrew’s and he has been kept out of action for the past three months with a hamstring injury.
But, in his first game back, Agbonlahor kept his cool to clinch a local derby success for Villa.
Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce: “It was the worst game of the season. The ball must have been screaming at one point, saying ‘please don’t bash me again’.
“We’re still not remotely near the finished article. I’ve got a busy summer ahead, with a huge clear-out job to continue.
“But at least the fans have not only won a derby, they’ve seen the effort their team has put in. We’ve taken away the stigma that they don’t care.
“If anyone can keep Blues up, Harry will. He had them playing like their lives depended on it and they’ve got to take that into their last two games.”
Birmingham manager Harry Redknapp: “They’ve not had a shot in the second half – apart from the goal. It’s the only one they’ve had.
“You can’t say Villa were good. If that’s the best they can do, Steve’s clearly got a lot of work to do.
“They (Birmingham under Gianfranco Zola) had won two out of 24. When you look at that record, it scares you to death. Confidence has been low but the lads showed good attitude and responded well.
“We could not have worked any harder. We just didn’t get the break. It won’t be easy against Huddersfield, but we’ve got every chance if we keep playing like that.”