Like that mis-match of 17 weeks ago, the scoreline flattered the losers. Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn each scored two goals but there could and should have been more as Peter Reid's team, sparkling in the first half and assured throughout the second, showed just how far they have come in the top-flight since their nightmare start. They are now 10 points ahead of Cheslea in fourth place and, on this and other recent evidence, serious contenders for a Uefa Cup place, if not a Champions' League one.
Chelsea, on the latter score, could be said to have had one eye on their trip to Rome, where they face Lazio in the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday. But Vialli stated that this was a match his team simply had to win, and the foreign legion of SW6 can now wave goodbye to the domestic championship for another season. They were beaten, and beaten well, yesterday by a Sunderland team deprived by suspensions of the central defenders Steve Bould and Paul Butler and the in-form midfielders Gavin McCann and Alex Rae.
Reid dismissed his side's opening-day capitulation at the Bridge as "just a bad day at the office". But, with Bould and Butler forced to watch from the West Stand, the central defensive pairing the Sunderland manager was forced to field evoked memories of an even more painful afternoon shift. Jody Craddock and Darren Williams were back at the heart of the Wearsiders' defence for the first time since their play-off final defeat against Charlton at Wembley.
Not that Chelsea were quick to probe any lingering wounds. Indeed, after 45 seconds they were licking their own. Reid, for all the progress he has made, might not boast the same strength in depth as Vialli, who started with Dan Petrescu and Bjarne Goldbaek alongside him on the bench yesterday, but the Sunderland manager has acquired and developed a wealth of cut- price talent. Eric Roy, a pounds 500,000 signing from Marseilles, might not have been allotted a midfield berth had McCann and Rae not been suspended, but the Frenchman made his presence, and his skills, felt immediately.
Trapping a clearance from Dennis Wise some 25 yards from goal, he sidestepped round Jon Harley, jinked past Wise and delivered an angled ball to the six-yard line, where Quinn applied the scoring touch with a side-footed finish. The ground fairly erupted and the deafening noise did not abate until half-time. It was the hustling, high-tempo of Sunderland's play, though, that rattled Chelsea.
Roy was the prompter-in-chief from central midfield but the pressure was applied from all angles. Quinn and Phillips, in perpetual motion, darted wide to play their quick-breaking colleagues through the middle. That Cheslea were wobbling was evident on the quarter hour when Jes Hogh, under pressure from Quinn, fired a nervy backpass across the face of Ed de Goey's goal. And four minutes later Reid was out of his "technical area" in protest when Roy was sent sprawling on the left side of the area by Bernard Lambourde. It was a clear penalty, though in ignoring the appeals, Steve Dunn merely delayed the inevitable.
It was the right foot of Phillips that brought the hammer down, in more than one respect. When Michael Gray's sweeping ball from deep on the left bounced up before him in the 23rd minute, the England striker swung his boot and dispatched a stunning volley that arched 25 yards into the right corner of the Chelsea net.
Phillips' second goal, 12 minutes later, was more prosaic - a close-range poach after De Goey stretched to stop, but could not hold, a Quinn volley following another piercing Gray pass from the left.
Five minutes before half-time Sunderland had settled their opening day score. Nicky Summerbee's right-wing corner was deflected to the far side of the box, where Quinn sent a left-foot volley crashing past De Goey. It hit the net directly in front of the stunned Chelsea fans in the South Stand. It could, however, have been worse for them, the fired-up Phillips having been denied his hat-trick by De Goey's brilliant tip-over.
Chelsea, without the suspended Frank Leboeuf, the injured Chris Sutton and the rested Didier Deschamps, did have their moments. Tore Andre Flo shot into the side-netting amid the first-half flurry and midway through the second-half the Norwegian managed to force a save from the seriously underemployed Thomas Sorensen.
Sunderland's Danish goalkeeper was eventually beaten with nine minutes left, Gustavo Poyet converting Gianfranco Zola's low right-wing corner. "Chelsea are back," the visiting supporters chanted. Back among the Premiership's also-rans, that is.Reuse content