Bridges the way ahead

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sunderland 1

Stewart 25

Aston Villa 0

Attendance: 21,059

Rarely, perhaps never, has the word "thrilling" been used to describe Sunderland's football in the first quarter of their first Premiership season, but for yesterday's first-half performance, no other word will suffice.

Their deserved win, though, will go down as another eccentric escapade on the travels of Mark Bosnich. Villa's Australian keeper, on his first League awayday since his indiscretion at Spurs, conceded the penalty which decided the game. He departed in the 57th minute, having pulled a muscle drop-kicking the ball, and was saluted by a rousing chorus of the Dambusters' March from the Sunderland supporters.

Their team should not have needed the assistance of a spot kick to defeat a disappointing Villa. They had chances aplenty, and in 18-year-old Michael Bridges found a sign that the future may not be as dour as the past. The local lad, making his full Premiership debut, was full of the confidence of youth, all dragbacks and too-clever-by-half flicks. He outpaced Carl Tiler, outjumped Ugo Ehiogu and, most promisingly of all, out-manoeuvred Gareth Southgate, who was returning from the injury he sustained against Poland.

As early as the second minute, the teenager had turned Southgate. In the 12th minute Bosnich had to punch Dariusz Kubicki's cross from his head, and in the 15th minute he dribbled around Andy Townsend and passed for Paul Stewart to head too close to the keeper. Those openings, added to David Kelly's 50-yard run and wayward shot, came before Bosnich attempted to shepherd out Mark Draper's under-hit backpass for a corner in the 24th minute. Stewart came rushing in, Bosnich stuck out a leg and rolled the former England man into the hoardings.

Both recovered after treatment: Bosnich to save Kelly's uncertain penalty, Stewart to steer in the rebound for his first goal of the season. Bosnich had to make an exceptional save from Kevin Ball's volley to complete an unsettling half for Villa, but for Sunderland the only moment of discomfort was when Tommy Johnson and Michael Gray traded punches. Sunderland have received 22 cards this season and Gray, their right-handed left-winger, looked lucky to just see yellow. "We have played games with only nine or 10 on the pitch but this shows that when we have 11 we're not bad," said Sunderland's manager, Peter Reid.

Although Villa rallied in the last 20 minutes, with Julian Joachim denied by a fine save from Lionel Perez, Brian Little conceded that his side's worst performance of the season had not merited any points. He also confirmed that the unsettled Savo Milosevic will fly to Italy next week for talks with Perugia regarding a pounds 4.5m transfer.

Comments