Quinn 7, 75, Bridges 13, 35
Half-time:0-3 Attendance: 25,612
SUNDERLAND ARE five points ahead in the First Division and, on this evidence, streets ahead as well as they brushed aside with embarrassing ease a side that before kick-off appeared to be competitively-placed in fourth.
The United manager, Steve Bruce, summed up the distance perfectly: "The best team won by a million miles."
Sheffield were without their leading scorer, Dean Saunders, sent home by Bruce after having talks with a Premiership club, and were reduced to 10 men when injury robbed them of Graham Stuart a minute after a series of half-time substitutions. But Sunderland only bothered playing in the first 45 minutes, converting three of the countless chances their silky, imaginative play created.
With Nicky Summerbee fluent down the right, Niall Quinn dominant in the air, Lee Clark exhibiting his full collection of passes and Michael Bridges sparkling and making Bruce labour over every one of the 17 years he gave him, Sunderland were irresistible.
"We were fantastic," Peter Reid said without exaggeration. The rout began in the seventh minute when Summerbee floated over a free-kick which bounced in the box and reared up on to the unmarked head of Quinn. A yard out, he would have struggled not to score.
Seven minutes later the lead was doubled. Chris Makin drifted the ball in and Bridges stole in front of Nicky Marker. He killed the ball dead with his first touch and after a swift turn did the same to the game with his second touch by placing the ball wide of Simon Tracey.
In the 35th minute Sunderland scored again. When Shaun Derry brought down Quinn on the half-way line, Allan Johnston sent Bridges away. He danced around Tracey, waited for Marker and Bruce to reach the goal-line before coolly putting the ball between them for his ninth goal of the season.
United were so far behind that Stuart's injury could have been a cunning tactic -- the only team to defeat Sunderland in 27 games are Barnsley, who did it last week when they had a man sent off. The tactic worked in that Sunderland scored just once more - Quinn's tap-in being his eighth in eight games.
Bridges and Daniele Dichio brought great saves from Tracey, but when Johnston baffled Derry into tripping him, Bridges, so precise all afternoon, put the penalty wide.
"His first touch and the way he moves the ball are top class," Reid said of his 20-year-old protege, "And that is difficult to buy."