Football: Prolific Phillips douses Ipswich passion

Sunderland 2 Williams 13, Phillips 31 Ipswich Town 2 Petta 11, Dyer 28 Attendance: 35,114
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The Independent Online
SUNDERLAND may be the stars of the latest riveting soap-doc Premier Passions, but they do not have exclusive rights on the quality. In a perpetually exciting contest yesterday, they were twice behind and eventually matched by an Ipswich side who have surged up the First Division on a tide of goals. This was one of those matches in which free scoring seems to be as assured as the kick-off itself. Sunderland are the division's leading strikers, and had won their previous six home matches while Ipswich had scored 18 times in four.

There is also the electrifying matter of the Stadium of Light, which may not yet be the Theatre of Dreams, but which generates a cacophony. Players from whatever side could not fail to be inspired to do their day's work. It took as many as 11 minutes for the first goal to arrive and if Sunderland's defence displayed some shortcomings, it still owed more to Ipswich's assertive passing. The ever- threatening forward pair of Alex Mathie and David Johnson exchanged passes on the move. Between them, they found Bobby Petta on the left who drew Lionel Perez and was unperturbed by the narrowness of the angle in beating the goalkeeper with a left-foot shot.

If nothing else, this provoked Sunderland to establish their mark. Within two minutes they were level following Nicky Summerbee's accurate cross which led to a corner. Allan Johnston was equally precise in finding Darren Williams at the far post and his downward header squeezed in. There were moments after this when Sunderland might have gone ahead. But their untypical generosity at the back - becoming too much of a habit, warned their manager, Peter Reid, later with foreboding - allowed Ipswich to take the lead again and take their tally in five games to 20. Johnston and Mathie were almost inevitably involved. From a throw-in they were able to spread-eagle Sunderland's defence and Kieron Dyer was neatly balanced as he finished the manoeuvre.

There were, it was hinted afterwards, some colourful words spoken to his charges by Reid at half-time, which will come as no surprise to viewers of Premier Passions. The striker Kevin Phillips was reluctant to divulge the content for fear of upsetting faint-hearted newspaper readers. Whatever the nature of the verbal encouragement, it produced a spectacular equaliser. Johnston crossed from the left and Niall Quinn's leaping header found Phillips with his back to goal. He circumvented this difficulty by producing a bicycle-kick which astonished an otherwise sure-footed Richard Wright.

Sunderland could, perhaps should, have won it thereafter. Perhaps it was a tactical error to remove Summerbee from their attack in favour of Kevin Ball. While Ball was characteristically tenacious, the balance of the side was terminally altered and Ipswich's decision to settle for a point was more easily achieved.

At the last, Sunderland were dramatically denied when Quinn once more headed down to Phillips, whose shot as he leant back was saved by Wright moving sharply to his right. Passionate stuff indeed and the Stadium of Light will see much more of the same.

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