Football: Quinn the essential

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The Independent Online
Sunderland 2

Johnston 10, Quinn 90

Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

Melville og 23 Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 41,268

SUNDERLAND COULD scarcely have left it later to reassert themselves at the top of the First Division as Niall Quinn scrambled in a stoppage- time winner which, perhaps unfairly, deprived Wolves of a point to bolster their play-off ambitions.

A goal inside 10 minutes from the Scottish winger Allen Johnston proved there was no hangover from their Worthington Cup semi-final defeat, but perhaps proved little else.

Sunderland are so used to having things their own way at the Stadium of Light, but it was natural for them to assume they were on their way to a familiar, complication-free victory.

Johnston's goal was the product of raw simplicity rather than any intricate passing movement. Quinn's orthodox flick-on freed Johnston who drove beneath Mike Stowell.

But Wolves, who have strung together an impressive sequence of results, recovered from the setback to tweak at the leaders' defensive nerve ends.

Robbie Keane brought an outstanding save from the Danish keeper Thomas Sorensen before miscuing with another opportunity. But that was evidence of Wolves' determination to strike back, which they did inside 51 minutes. Simon Osborn, who has just signed a new two-year contract, began the move which brought about the curious equaliser, lifting a ball high into opposition territory. What followed was a breakdown in communication as Sorensen, totally unannounced, raced from his goal only for Andy Melville, under pressure from Keane, to guide what might have been a back pass into the net.

Sunderland's lead had gone with the north-west wind which threatened to disturb if not quite wreck the flow of the game.

Dean Richards may soon leave Wolves under the Bosman arrangement, but he remains a vital defensive contributor to the Molineux cause as he demonstrated by heading a Kevin Phillips lob off his own goal- line early in the second half.

The good fortune, however, was hardly monopolised by Wolves who, on the hour, had a Keane header disallowed for an offence spotted by Preston official Phil Richards. A handling offence later cost the Irish protege yet another goal.

Whatever reservations there were about the skill count, the high level of competitive edge rarely wavered. Wolves, though, showed a tendency to defend too deeply in front of Stowell and almost paid a price after 70 minutes through Paul Butler's menacing header; then Phillips let the Midlanders off from a good heading opportunity.

Sunderland finally achieved their breakthrough, and Wolves their comeuppance, when Johnston shot across the face of the area. After Wolves' unsuccessful attempt to clear, Quinn, on his knees, prodded home the winner - his 17th goal of the season.