Football: Euell goal puts survival beyond Sunderland

Wimbledon 1 Sunderland 0
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The Independent Online
A season of fluctuating mood swings for the North-east ended with Newcastle as the region's sole Premiership representatives, with Sunderland unable to save themselves from a return to the First Division along with their near-neighbours Middlesbrough.

After Jason Euell, with four minutes remaining, had finally accepted one of the many opportunities that came Wimbledon's way, the Roker men were left hoping that Tottenham could come up with an equaliser against Coventry in the 15 minutes that followed the end of proceedings in south London. And as those in north London will confirm, you cannot rely on Spurs for anything these days.

So, just as in 1990, Sunderland's return to the Premier Division of English football lasted just a single season. Their need for a genuine goalscorer was never more apparent than on this final, excruciating day, although in truth their opportunities to score were few and far between.

Arguably the best of the afternoon fell to Paul Stewart 11 minutes from the end of his final appearance in a Sunderland shirt. From Craig Russell's cross, the ball begged to be put in the net but his header went over. Seven minutes later Dean Holdsworth got away down the left and Euell, the 18-year-old with a massive future, steered his shot wide of Lionel Perez.

It was agonising viewing for the Sunderland manager Peter Reid, for Chris Waddle, a boyhood fan and unable at the last challenge to keep his favourites alive, and for all the thousands of die-hards who made the long journey down from Weirside.

If anyone could have willed the ball into the net for their team it was them, but their heroes could not raise themselves sufficiently when it mattered and Sunderland's new pounds 14m Monkwearmouth Stadium will play host to such glamorous names as Bury and Stockport County from August.

The Sunderland defenders struggled from the first whistle to cope with the pace and power of Euell and Holdsworth. Marcus Gayle also held the upper hand over Gareth Hall and it was from that left wing position where most of the danger began. The first chance fell Gayle's way but, from an angle, his shot did not trouble Lionel Perez.

On the quarter-hour a swift break initiated by Alan Kimble saw Gayle delivering a precise first-time ball into Holdsworth's stride. The massed ranks of the away support covered their eyes; it seemed the Wimbledon striker must score but there to save his team was the young defender Michael Gray.

News spread of Coventry's early goal at White Hart Lane which, if sustained, would have left Sunderland requiring more than just a holding operation. For a time they could not get hold of the ball to relieve the pressure, Euell, Oyvind Leonhardsen and Gayle all unable to capitalise on reasonable openings in front of goal.

Sunderland had to wait a long while for something to lift their own spirits. With Niall Quinn and Stewart shadowed effectively, they were forced to rely on Waddle's corners to threaten and, from one near the end of the first half, only Holdsworth's diligence prevented Richard Ord getting to it first and in a position to score.

When Leonhardsen executed a slip turn to find space, panic returned to the Sunderland penalty area. The Norwegian tumbled to the floor under a challenge from Darren Williams but the referee, Dermot Gallagher, was not interested in the appeal.

Goal: Euell (85) 1-0.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, McAllister, Kimble; Ardley, Jones (Fear, h-t), Leonhardsen, Gayle (Ekoku, 68); Euell, Holdsworth. Substitutes not used: Reeves, Jupp, Heald (gk).

Sunderland (4-4-2): Perez; Hall, Howey, Ord, Gray; Williams, Bracewell (Russell, 73) , Ball, Waddle (Johnston, 73); Quinn (Bridges, 61), Stewart. Substitutes not used: Rae, Woods (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

Man of the match: Holdsworth.

Attendance: 21,338.