Football: Sunderland banished to play-offs

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The Independent Online
Swindon Town 1 Sunderland 2

PETER REID will take one final look at the First Division table today and try to fathom out how it is that 90 points have not proved sufficient to take Sunderland back to the Premiership without the need to go into the play-off scramble.

Likewise, Kevin Phillips will wonder why he is not already packing his bags for his summer holidays and savouring a magnificent 33-goal haul, including another two yesterday, which enabled Sunderland to live in hope until four minutes into the second half.

Then word came through that Middlesbrough had begun their goal spree at the Riverside, and the County Ground, filled with expectant Wearsiders, went tell-tale silent. For the second successive year, the final day of the regulation season had contained an unkind sting for Sunderland. But at least they have an alternate route to the Premiership and will now face Sheffield United for a place at Wembley.

"Obviously we are disappointed because we wanted to go up automatically, but if someone had offered us the play-offs in October or November (when his side were struggling to get into the top half of the table) we would have taken it," said Reid.

The Sunderland manager had spoken via a microphone to his club's followers, who had come on to the field in droves at the end to pay tribute to the season-long effort which desperately fell just short. "We have just got to fight tooth and nail to get this club in the Premier League, because if any fans deserve it, it's you," Reid told them.

It was the defeat last Tuesday at Ipswich which ultimately cost Sunderland and handed the initiative to Middlesbrough. They comfortably dismissed a Swindon side who gained a proximity in the scoreline they barely deserved through Mark Walters' exquisite curler with three minutes left.

Phillips had the ball in the net on four occasions, but was twice denied by an offside flag. His first, on 20 minutes, cushioning the ball on his chest before angling an unstoppable volley beyond Fraser Digby, confirmed Sunderland's growing control.

Phillips's second goal on the stroke of half-time was taken with the confidence of one who has been doing this sort of thing on a consistent basis since the autumn, an instant strike inside the near post after Jody Craddock had headed the ball down.

Goals: Phillips (21) 0-1; Phillips (44) 0-2; Walters (86) 1-2.

Swindon Town (5-3-2): Digby; Robinson, Borrows, Kerslake, McDonald, Davis; Cuervo (Hay 74), Bullock (Watson 88), Walters; Crowe, Onuora. Substitute not used: C Taylor.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Perez; Holloway, Craddock, Williams, Makin; Summerbee, Clark, Ball, Johnston; Phillips, Dichio (Bridges, 76). Substitutes not used: Rae, Ord.

Referee: M Pearce (Portsmouth).

Bookings: Swindon: Onuora, Cuervo, Walters. Sunderland: Ball.

Man of the match: Phillips (Sunderland)

Attendance: 14,868.