Arca lifts Sunderland into comfort zone

Sunderland 2 Reading 0
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The Independent Online

There was no need for a Mart Poom punchline on this occasion. A week on from his injury-time heroics at Pride Park, Sunderland's goalscoring goalkeeper could afford to spend his 94-minute shift within the confines of his own penalty area. Mick McCarthy's men were into the comfort zone long before the closing stages, thanks, in part, to a flash of South American brilliance from Julio Arca.

The young man from Buenos Aires was an Under-20 international with Argentina two years ago. He showed why in the 28th minute of the match at the Stadium of Light, whipping a curling left-foot shot past Marcus Hahnemann in the Reading goal from wide and deep on the left. It was the kind of finish Arca's "Junior" World Cup winning colleague, Javier Saviola, has made his trademark at the Nou Camp. And it was the 22-year-old's second of such distinction in four weeks, following a stunning lob against Bradford at Valley Parade.

Arca has been a revelation since being summoned from the Stadium of Light wilderness and switched from left-winger to left-back. Sunderland have been a relative revelation too, since almost equalling Darwen's record losing streak during last-season's Premiership campaign.

The first goal apart, they hardly hit the heights yesterday evening, but Arca's strike and a John Oster header earned them a comfortable win against a managerless, meandering Reading - a fifth victory in seven league games by McCarthy's transformed team.

Such was the dearth of creativity in the opening quarter though, that there were calls for Poom to move upfield when Sunderland won their first corner. The Estonian stayed put, the chance went begging and not until the 25th minute did either side show any sign of invention. It materialised in the form of a break from midfield by Colin Healy, but it came to nought, Kevin Kyle being guilty of a woeful miskick after the ball came his way on the edge of the area via a Marcus Stewart pass.

It was different three minutes later. Thomas Butler cut in from the left on a mazy run and, having found his path blocked, fed the ball back to Arca, whose shot from deep whizzed in between Hahnemann and his near-post from a tight angle.

It was just the jolt of inspiration the contest needed. Four minutes later Sunderland were 2-0 up. The beavering Butler swept the ball out to Stewart on the left and the Bristolian's cross was met on the edge of the six yard box with a glancing goalscoring header byOster.

Poom had been a spectator up until that point. Indeed, it was not until the 40th minute that he had a shot to save, dropping to his haunches to gather a stinging low drive by Nicky Forster. The same player forced a similar stop in the opening minute of the second-half but, with Gary Breen returning to bring his assured influence to bear at the heart of defence, Sunderland could enjoy the luxury of taking their foot off the pedal and coasting to victory.

Sunderland 2 Reading 0
Arca 28, Oster 32

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 22,420

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