Bridges keeps Sunderland in touch

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The Independent Online


Southend United 0 Sunderland 2

Michael Bridges, a 17-year-old substitute, ensured Sunderland's rise to second place in the First Division last night, scoring with his first touch within 25 seconds of coming on in the 80th minute.

Bridges collected his first goal for the club after cutting in from the left past Mick Bodley to settle a match which was imperilled with abandonment throughout the second half because of thick fog.

Sunderland came into this game with a record of six clean sheets in their previous eight games, and they began, as one might have expected, in cautiously resolute fashion.

It was the home side who created the first significant chance on the half-hour when their right-back, Mark Hone, drove in a near-post cross which Andy Rammell, making his home debut after the exchange deal which took David Regis to Barnsley, headed towards goal. But Southend's goalkeeper, Shay Given, denied Rammell early cause for celebration with an instinctive save.

Sunderland responded five minutes later as a one-two between Kevin Ball and Mark Scott sent the latter in on goal, only for the diving figure of Simon Royce to block him in the act of shooting. At this point, coastal fog began to roll into the ground over the roof of the North Stand. It added an atmosphere of drama which the match scarcely deserved.

As the second half got underway, the drama threatened to turn into a crisis as visibility deteriorated to the point where it was almost impossible to see across the pitch.

Twice in the opening five minutes, Sunderland's forward Lee Howey - probably - provoked saves from Royce - definitely. And Howey made his breakthrough in the 53rd minute when he earned a penalty after being brought down by Keith Dublin following up a Phil Gray shot which Royce had pushed out. Martin Scott's spot-kick was a model of clarity in a pall of gloom.

Howey nearly made it two after 75 minutes when his shot came off the underside of the bar and Royce then blocked superbly as Michael Gray drove at the loose ball.

Southend United (4-4-2): Royce; Hone, Dublin (Roget, 70), Bodley, Barness; Byrne, Gridelet, Marsh, Hails; Rammell, Thomson (Jones, 61). Substitute not used: Tilson.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Given; Kubicki, Melville, Ord, Scott; Agnew, Bracewell, Ball, Michael Gray; P Gray, Howey (Bridges, 80). Substitutes not used: Hall, Martin Gray.

Referee: G Barber (Warwick).