THE VIRTUOSITY and versatility of Niall Quinn enabled Sunderland to extend their lead in the First Division to 12 points at Valley Parade last night, leaving Bradford to look for consolation in the failings of promotion rivals Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich.
Quinn had no sooner struck his 18th goal of the campaign, after 71 minutes of an exciting contest, than he was called upon to keep his first clean sheet of the season. Donning the goalkeeper's jersey for what proved to be 20 minutes following an injury to the Sunderland goalkeeper, Thomas Sorensen, the towering Irishman managed it with few alarms.
On a heavy pitch, the performance of both teams reflected great credit on the Nationwide League. However, Sunderland demonstrated that the table does not lie, proving themselves to be a class above their third-placed hosts. While Peter Reid could not be tempted in claiming that a Premiership place was all but secure, he suggested that May might find him hanging from the Wearmouth Bridge if his team were to blow such an advantage at this late stage.
Not that Bradford were embarrassed. Under the stewardship of Reid's friend and fellow Merseysider, Paul Jewell, they have made great strides with a revamped team who always attempted to rise above the conditions with their passing game.
Sunderland had won last season's encounter 4-0 and had the opportunities to run up a similar tally on this occasion. That they were prevented from doing so was due both to the excellent goalkeeping of Bradford's Gary Walsh and some untypically wasteful finishing by Kevin Phillips.
Phillips' first chance of the match arrived after just three minutes, when Chris Makin's pass beat Bradford's offside trap, but he shot straight at Walsh. He should also have scored at an identical stage after the interval, only to head straight at the keeper.
In between, Bradford's best spell produced some lusty long-range blows, notably by the newly constituted attacking partnership of Lee Mills and Dean Windass. The latter, recruited from Oxford only last week, was inches from a debut goal with a first-time volley from 20 yards.
The intensity of the match was epitomised by one bone-shuddering challenge between Stuart McCall and Kevin Ball. When the breakthrough came, the surprise was that it was such a simple goal, Quinn peeling off his marker to meet Johnston's corner with a near-post header.
As Bradford retaliated, a collision between Mills and Sorensen left the Danish keeper with concussion. Quinn took over and admonished his manager for panicking. True to his word, he was coolness personified; truly the poacher turned goalkeeper.
Bradford City (4-4-2) Walsh; Todd, Moore, Dreyer, Jacobs; Lawrence, McCall, Whalley, Blake; Windass, Mills. Substitutes not used: Rankin, O'Brien, Ramage.
Sunderland (4-4-2) Sorensen (Dichio, 76); Makin, Melville, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, Williams (Clark, 61), Ball, Johnston; Quinn, Phillips. Substitute not used: Bridges.
Referee: A Butler (Sutton-in-Ashfield).Reuse content