Football: Phillips hopes to stand tall

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THE SUNDERLAND striker Kevin Phillips is hoping to strike another blow for the little man as his side returns to Worthington Cup semi- final action tonight.

The 5ft 7in striker saw Tony Cottee - just an inch taller - give Leicester a 2-1 first-leg lead at The Stadium of Light last month with two instinctive finishes.

While the former Watford player knows that his side are the underdogs he is determined to disprove the assertion that big is necessarily beautiful. "Tony Cottee is the sort of player I look up to," said Phillips without a hint of irony.

"Since I've been in the North-east, people have mentioned me in the same bracket and as the same sort of player. If I can achieve what he's achieved in his career then I'll be more than happy.

"It just goes to show that not everyone has to be six foot to succeed. Tony's a great role model for the smaller lads."

Phillips, who missed three months of the current season with a toe injury, has nevertheless reached double figures after his 35-goal contribution in 1997-98.

His late penalty winner at Bristol City on Saturday took him to 11 but he knows he will be facing one of the more formidable defences at at Filbert Street. "Matt Elliott, Steve Walsh and Gerry Taggart are the three biggest centre-halves I've ever played against," he said.

"We've got big men up front in Niall Quinn and Danny Dichio, if he plays, so we can challenge them, but they're very strong.

"They've also got two good central midfield players and Emile Heskey and Cottee up front, who were a different class on the night up here. But if we can keep them out then we stand a good chance."

Gavin McCann's late goal allowed the First Division leaders to just about keep the tie alive and Phillips is confident that Martin O'Neill's men can expect a tough battle. "We've given ourselves a chance and we'll go there and enjoy it," he said.

Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, acknowledges that Leicester are favourites to reach the final, but refuses to write off his side's chances of reaching the final at Wembley next month.

"We have to go to Leicester with a positive attitude, but I know my players are up for it and you never know what can happen," he said.

"Leicester are a good footballing side and they have a positive manager but they might freeze in front of their own supporters.

"I think we have played quite well against three Premiership clubs in cup competitions this season. We were unlucky at Blackburn in the FA Cup and while Leicester probably deserved their first-leg win, we are not out of it."

Sunderland have bounced back from three successive defeats, albeit two to Premiership clubs, to take maximum points from games against Swindon and Bristol City to consolidate their position at the top of the First Division.