Football: Phillips has his fill again

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The Independent Online
Sunderland 3

Phillips 22, 48, Clark 26

West Bromwich Albion 0

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 41,135

THE FAT LADY is clearing her throat at the Stadium of Light, but not until she sings the Premiership aria will Peter Reid uncork the bubbly.

He was happy to concede, though, that the champagne was now on ice. "It's getting really cold," he joked, after his team performed with the appropriate effervescence.

Retaining coolness when considering his team's promotion chances has been Reid's managerial trademark and, in typically understated fashion, he says his team's route to the summit owes much to a combination of shutting down the opposition's attacking options while, when in possession, passing and moving brightly; qualities which have been serving Sunderland so well for seasons.

The vibrant, urgent opening showed why Sunderland's roll - now 11 straight home wins, a club record - continues with no sign of being slowed up.

And Reid can take the credit for that. With so much daylight between them and third spot, a less well-motivated team may be more inclined to take their foot off the gas pedal.

Those early moments saw a flurry of corners for the home team and chances followed - Allan Johnston coming closest when his speculative shot was pushed on to the angle by the West Brom goalkeeper, Phil Whitehead.

A penalty appeal when Lee Hughes fell in the opposite box was waved away, a surprising decision even to Reid, but if it had been given, it would have been unlikely to change the outcome. "It was a penalty, no question, but it wasn't given and in the end three goals flattered us, not Sunderland, who were by far the better side," said West Brom's manager Denis Smith.

A brief interlude which saw West Brom start to make passes count was decisively ended when Kevin Phillips received the ball and struck a sweet, looping volley from the edge of the box through Whitehead's outstretched palms.

The advantage was doubled minutes later when, following a stunning save from Niall Quinn's goal-bound header, Lee Clark found himself with time to curl a right-footer beyond the static Whitehead.

In an effort to limit the damage, Smith switched his formation to give lone striker Hughes support in the form of Fabian De Freitas, on for Richard Sneekes, but the onslaught continued unabated.

Ending any lingering hopes of a creditable score-line for the visitors, Phillips struck again when he stole in unmarked at the far post to head home a Nicky Summerbee free-kick.