FOOTBALL: Phillips leaves Southampton little consolation

Sunderland 2 Southampton 0
KEVIN PHILLIPS has become accustomed to harsh assessments. In his time as an apprentice at Southampton he was told that he was too small to be a striker and then, after converting to right-back, that he was not good enough to make the grade.

On Saturday evening it was Phillips himself who was lamenting his shortcomings. "To miss from 12 yards is bitterly disappointing," he said. "I know I shouldn't be too hard on myself because I've got two goals, but I'll be sitting tonight thinking I should have had a hat-trick."

It was of little comfort to Southampton that the only consolation they could take from their afternoon's toil at the Stadium of Light was preventing a player that they threw on to the football scrapheap, who left The Dell for a working life driving fork lift trucks, from reaching the 20-goals mark for the Premiership season with 20 matches still to play.

Phillips has come a long way in the eight years since he was shown the door at The Dell. True to the pragmatic nature that has helped him get this far, though, he refuses to revise the target he set himself when he stepped up into the big league in August.

"It's still to get 20 goals," he insisted, even though the brace he bagged on Saturday has left him just a single strike short of becoming the first Sunderland player to score that number in a top flight season since Neil Martin in the 1966-67 campaign.

Barring injury, there is no reason to suspect that the goals will dry up for the hyperactive little striker - especially now that Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, has provided him with another line of supply.

It promises to be a profitable line, too. Coming off the bench in the 87th minute, Kevin Kilbane's first touch as a Premiership player was to deliver the left-wing cross Niall Quinn hooked back at the far post for Phillips to head his second goal.

At pounds 2.5m, the price it took West Bromwich Albion to part with him, Kilbane looks like another shrewd investment by Reid, who prised Phillips from Watford for only pounds 350,000 two and a half years ago.

The rejected Saint now has 79 goals as a Sunderland player. The 78th arrived after 30 minutes on Saturday, courtesy of a Michael Gray free- kick and another Quinn knockdown. The 79th would have come from the penalty spot eight minutes from time, after Phillips had been tripped by Claus Lundekvam, but Neil Moss - a replacement for Paul Jones when the first- choice Southampton goalkeeper suffered a facial injury in attempting to stop the first goal - dived to his right to save the England striker's kick.

With 37 points in the bag before Christmas, the prospect of European football coming to Sunderland for the first time since Vasas Budapest and Sporting Lisbon visited Roker Park in the Cup-Winners' Cup 27 years ago is becoming an increasingly realistic possibility. Not that Reid is prepared to concede as much.

"I might go to France and watch a game in January," he said. "That's the only way I'm going to mention Europe."

Goals: Phillips (30) 1-0; Phillips (90) 2-0.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Bould, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, McCann, Roy (Williams, 64), Schwarz (Kilbane, 87); Quinn, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Marriott (gk), Rae, Reddy.

Southampton (4-5-1): Jones (Moss, 33); Tessem (Beattie, 50), Lundekvam, Richards, Benali; Ripley (Le Tissier, 66), Dodd, Kachloul, Soltvedt, Oakley; Pahars. Substitutes not used: Davies, Boa Morte.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: Sunderland: Makin. Southampton: Kachloul, Benali, Beattie, Le Tissier.

Man of the match: Phillips.

Attendance: 40,860.