Football: Half-pace keeps Sunderland at full speed

Sunderland 1 Phillips 7 Norwich City 0 Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 39,004
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The Independent Online
SUNDERLAND HAVE been playing from memory for months and they barely needed to stir from their slumbers as they sleepwalked to their ninth consecutive home win - a post-war club record - and maintained their nine- point lead at the top of the First Division.

They needed only to play in the briefest of spells to overcome the spell Norwich have had over them recently. Unbeaten in five visits to Wearside, the Canaries were the first side to win at the Stadium of Light in August 1997 and last season did the double over Sunderland. And even though Sunderland settled on to their laurels for the last 10 minutes, Thomas Sorensen still did not make a save, although he did pick up an 88th minute booking for dissent.

Having taken an early lead, a less forgiving crowd might not have laughed kindly at disappointing mistakes nor jeered calmly at Norwich when Iwan Roberts poked an "equaliser" from an offside position. "Some of our first- time passing in three or four moves was excellent," Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, said.

Move number one came after seven minutes and proved decisive. Chris Makin suddenly injected pace into a patient but seemingly purposeless attack which had wended its way up and down the left. The right-back's quick ball met Darren Williams' dart to the edge of the area. He back-heeled to Kevin Phillips who, unmarked, side-footed into the net off the post.

Norwich did at least learn about picking up Phillips. When Allan Johnston's languid pass set Nicky Summerbee free, Craig Fleming stole the cross from the striker's head and when Johnston's 20th-minute free-kick was palmed on to the post by Andy Marshall, Keith O'Neill successfully scrapped for the rebound with him.

But that was all the visitors could manage. Whenever Sunderland relinquished the ball, Norwich found themselves pressed backwards by sheer weight of numbers with Williams leading the pressing pack.

Move number two did not come until the second half. In the 49th minute, after a stunning triangle involving Johnston, Michael Gray and Phillips, and featuring a drag-back with the sole of his boot on the touchline by Johnston, Phillips was set free. Rather than bear down on Marshall, he opted for a spectacular curler which floated wide.

Half an hour later Sunderland raised themselves for move number three. It followed a brief flurry in which Marshall had made a good low save from Niall Quinn and Summerbee had slipped over a cross which had slithered beyond Quinn and Phillips. It began with another stunning triangle, this time involving Quinn, Johnston and Gray and featuring a delicate touch from the big Irishman which sent Gray away. His cross, though, was lashed wide on the far post by Summerbee.

"We need a few more points but we can see the finishing line from here," concluded Reid.