Football: Reid relies on walking wounded

Sunderland 3 Grimsby Town 1
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IT WOULD have been a happier return to Goodison Park for Peter Reid this season had Michael Gray not drawn his fateful blank in the penalty shoot-out at Wembley on 25 May. As it is, the Worthington Cup fourth-round tie on the blue side of Stanley Park on Wednesday merely affords the celebrated old Evertonian with a one-night chance to gauge the Premiership credentials of his upwardly mobile Sunderland team.

Reid's red and whites are unbeaten since the First Division play-off final six months ago. Sinking the Mariners on Wearside on Saturday extended their sequence without defeat to 22 league and cup matches since the start of the season. It also put them five points clear of the field at the top of the First Division table.

Behind the impressive statistics, though, lies a team ill-prepared for the challenge that even a Premiership team of Everton's limited capabilities can be expected to pose. Sunderland struggled for more than an hour on Saturday, as well they might have, given the personnel problems which have afflicted them.

In addition to the long-term absentees Lee Clark and Kevin Phillips, Reid was also without Gray, Nicky Summerbee, Daniele Dichio, Alex Rae, Darren Holloway and John Mullin. The list would have stretched to 11 had Niall Quinn and Michael Bridges not been coaxed from sick bed and treatment table respectively to fill a forward line that would have otherwise been bereft of specialist strikers.

In the circumstances, Reid's patched-up and ailing side did well to overcome a Grimsby team that held sway until the final 25 minutes. They had Thomas Sorensen, their Danish goalkeeper, to thank for keeping the Mariners at bay before Martin Smith crashed a volley and planted a header past Aidan Davison to give Sunderland a sudden two-goal advantage.

Paul Groves halved Grimsby's deficit with a scrambled reply, but the points were safe for Sunderland when Quinn turned to fire a curling shot past Davison with nine minutes remaining. It was the Irishman's 100th League goal and fitting reward for an appropriately towering personal contribution.

Despite suffering from flu and having been confined to home barracks for three days, Quinn responded to his manager's emergency plea for help. He did not depart until the victory was secure, making way for Sam Aiston after his goal.

Clark, who suffered a broken leg on the opening day of the season, returns to action in a friendly match at Durham City tonight, but Reid will still be short of fit first-teamers on Wednesday at Goodison, where his promoted side won 3-1 two years ago before their one-off Premiership campaign descended into free-fall.

"I won't risk any players who aren't fit," the Sunderland manager said, "not in a Worthington Cup tie. But we can go there and enjoy it. We've played a lot of pressure League games lately.

"It'll be a bit of a yardstick for us. And if we win we're in the last eight. It's not a bad position to be in." It could, though, - on Saturday's evidence, at least - be much better.

Goals: M Smith (65) 1-0; M Smith (69) 2-0; Groves (70) 2-1; Quinn (81) 3-1.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Butler, Melville, Scott; M Smith, Ball, Williams, Johnston; Bridges (Wainwright, 77), Quinn (Aiston, 86). Substitute not used: Thirlwell.

Grimsby Town (4-4-2): Davison; McDermott, Livingstone, Handyside, Gallimore; Coldicott, Widdrington (Black, 42), Groves, D Smith (Lever, 78); Lester, Nogan (Ashcroft, 68).

Referee: G Singh (Wolverhampton).

Bookings: Sunderland: Sorensen, Ball.

Man of the match: Sorensen.

Attendance: 40,077.