Football: Leaders find it all far too easy

Sunderland 1 Norwich City 0
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QUITE WHAT the Black Eagles, a posse of Tanzanian acrobats, made of their half-time performance in which they bounced and tumbled in only their loin cloths in the freezing, swirling, Wearside rain is unknown, but it is clear that Sunderland are becoming increasingly foreign to the rest of the Nationwide League.

A slender home victory over a side in 12th place who have now won just one of their last 13 games may not seem like a gap of Continental drift proportions, but Sunderland were only required to play for about five of the 90 minutes.

The remaining 85 they practised five-a-side moves and silky step-overs while ensuring they did not get hurt in 50-50 challenges and did not tire themselves out. So exasperated did their captain, Kevin Ball, become with the apparent apathy around him, that he made three rash challenges on the hour and was booked. To save him further indignity he was immediately substituted.

But still Norwich failed to get a shot on target, although as Sunderland not so much rested on their laurels but fell asleep on them in the last 10 minutes they did at least keep the ball in the home side's half for a while.

Yet in those five minutes when Sunderland stretched themselves, they were magnificent. The goal came when ponderous possession up and down the line was broken by Chris Makin's quick killer ball into the feet of Darren Williams. Williams back-heeled with foreign flair and Kevin Phillips despatched with unerring accuracy. One-nil and Sunderland knew the game was over. They then only bothered with party pieces in purple patches.

Allan Johnston lazily looped pin-point passes over the heads of defenders for fun and Phillips found his run with an acrobatic touch that the Black Eagles would have been proud of.

In the second half a Johnston drag-back in the slightest of space on the touchline presented Phillips with an open penalty area and, remarkably, Niall Quinn gathered his legs together for a back-heel flick that fell immaculately into Michael Gray's stride. Nicky Summerbee slammed the resulting cross on to the outside of a post with a skimming half-volley.

Although Peter Reid made all the right noises about how his team, nine points clear at the top, were not becoming complacent as they equalled a post-war club record of nine consecutive home victories, his most telling phrase was about tomorrow's game against third- placed Bradford: "They are on a particularly good run and the players seem to be up for those sort of games."

In other words, Sunderland are in need of a challenge and Bradford notwithstanding, only the Premiership can provide it.

Goals: Phillips (7).

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Melville, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, Williams, Ball (McCann, 63), Johnston; Phillips, Quinn. Substitutes not used: Dichio, Bridges.

Norwich City (4-4-2): A Marshall; Wilson, Fleming, Jackson, Fuglestad; Sutch, Grant (Russell, 60), L Marshall, O'Neill; Bellamy (Llewellyn, 73), Roberts. Substitute not used: MacKay.

Referee: D Pugh (Wirral).

Bookings: Sunderland: Sorensen, Ball, Butler. Norwich: Grant

Man of the match: Williams.

Attendance: 39,004.