Perhaps it was just as well that this first pay-per-view game was played at one of the smallest grounds in the First Division, while the television audience who paid pounds 7.95 for the pleasure of watching would have spent 90 minutes thinking what better they could have spent their money on. If Sky had a refund hotline, it would have been scorching. Viewing figures are not out for a few weeks; Sky should not hold their breath.
The match sparked into life only just before the end, almost as if the TV producers had had a word in the players' ears to spice things up. With one minute remaining, Oxford's Andy Thomson hit the inside of the post from the edge of the area but just when it looked as if the danger had been cleared the ball rebounded towards goal off Chris Makin, forcing goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen to scramble back and grab it. Sunderland went on the counter-attack, and this time Makin forced a diving save from the opposition goalkeeper with a wonderful curling right-footed effort from 20 yards that Paul Gerrard diverted to safety.
But while any sense of occasion failed to rub off on either team, Sunderland maintained a healthy lead at the top of the division, which over the course of the day dropped only from 10 points to nine. Oxford, at the other end of the table, moved two points away from the relegation zone.
The shortage of entertainment on offer - another TV channel was offering Blind Date, but Casualty might have been more appropriate - was not a problem as far as Oxford were concerned. They were beaten 7-0 in the game between these sides last September at the Stadium of Light and containment was the first thing on Oxford's minds.
Sunderland's manager Peter Reid was forced to start the game without three first-teamers in Lee Clark, Michael Gray and Kevin Ball, and his line-up was further weakened only nine minutes in when Niall Quinn, the side's top scorer this season, was forced off with a calf injury and they then failed to register a shot to trouble Gerrard for the rest of the half.
The visitors survived first-half efforts by Dean Windass and Kevin Francis and then exerted ever greater pressure on Oxford as the second half wore on, with Kevin Phillips forcing a diving save from Gerrard, who also had to save from Danny Dichio.
Reid, though, was simply happy to inch closer to promotion. "We were on top in the second half but just failed to stick it away, but I was pleased with the way we played," he said.Reuse content