Football: Phillips feeds expectation

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The Independent Online
Manchester City 0

Sunderland 1

Phillips 55

Attendance: 31,715

THESE are mightily uplifting times for Sunderland. They have a wonderful new stadium, their reshaped team is on a roll, the fans trust and adore the manager in equal measure, and Newcastle are up against it. Above all perhaps, the present feeling of satisfaction is being enhanced, if not quite created, by Newcastle's fall from grace.

While most observers warmed to the team who had become the great entertainers, they remained less than enraptured around the environs of what was then Roker Park.

The Germans might call this Schadenfreude, the Wearsiders would definitely say the Geordies had it coming to them. But while Newcastle failed to do the decent thing yesterday by going and winning, Sunderland at least obliged once more.

Manchester City went into the match feeling pretty pleased for having achieved two successive wins. Unfortunately for them, Sunderland went into it having been unbeaten in 16 matches, now 17, in a run dating back to October.

Both sides had appalling starts to the season, but Sunderland are beginning to enter dreamland while City continue to reside in the country of nightmares. There was plenty of effort about them yesterday, but this does not equate to initiative. At home, against a side as purposeful and rigorously organised as Sunderland, it was patently insufficient.

Throughout, Sunderland created the better openings and in Kevin Phillips they also had a striker who had scored in the six previous matches. That he should get the only goal was probably as predictable as the outcome. Nicky Summerbee supplied the ammunition when his smart cross from the right arrived 10 minutes into the second half and Phillips managed to put just enough skull on it to beat Tommy Wright.

City never seriously threatened to equalise. Perhaps their best chance had come in the 28th minute when Uwe Rosler had the line at his mercy. Lionel Perez produced a breathtaking save, testing his reflexes to the limit, by squeezing the ball on to the underside of the bar.

Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager who held his nerve when matters looked distinctly bleak at the start of the season, might have been forgiven for gloating afterwards. This was his first return to Maine Road since the club sacked him only four games into the 1994-95 season - and that after he had previously guided them to two fifth places and an eighth. That, of course, was when City were in the top division and what they would give now for such status in the First.

But Reid, who has pledged his future to Sunderland's Stadium of Light (as much as things can be promised in football) did not gloat. City, he said, were a great club who would get things right. One day, but not - as their manager, Frank Clark, conceded - yesterday, and not tomorrow either.

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