Caldwell's Stadium of new life

Sunderland 2 - Leicester City 1
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The Independent Online

As a 14-year-old Leeds fan, Mick McCarthy, by his own admission, was left "heartbroken" when Bob Stokoe's Sunderland beat Don Revie's supposed invincibles in the FA Cup final of 1973. The wound was healed yesterday when the man on the public address system at the Stadium of Light announced that the latter day Leeds had held Ipswich Town to a 1-1 draw. The result from Elland Road confirmed promotion to the Premiership for McCarthy's Sunderland.

As a 14-year-old Leeds fan, Mick McCarthy, by his own admission, was left "heartbroken" when Bob Stokoe's Sunderland beat Don Revie's supposed invincibles in the FA Cup final of 1973. The wound was healed yesterday when the man on the public address system at the Stadium of Light announced that the latter day Leeds had held Ipswich Town to a 1-1 draw. The result from Elland Road confirmed promotion to the Premiership for McCarthy's Sunderland.

McCarthy's boys had already done their bit, overcoming an early deficit and a case of the jitters to beat a relegation-threatened but highly-efficient Leicester City side, courtesy of goalscoring contributions by Marcus Stewart and Steve Caldwell. Then came a three-minute wait before the news from West Yorkshire set the champagne corks popping.

It remains to be seen whether the fizz will go flat. Sunderland are still carrying debts of £36m from Peter Reid's profligate spell in the Premiership. And this time, unlike their graduation of 1999, the Wearsiders will not be stepping up with players of the quality of Kevin Phillips, Niall Quinn and Thomas Sorensen.

Still, the future can wait. Last night was a time for saluting McCarthy's achievement in getting a sinking ship back afloat in the deep end of English football. The team of cut-price talents that beat Leicester yesterday was a different XI to the one that not so much bowed as slunk miserably out of the Premiership against Arsenal here two years ago.

Two points from their last two games, at West Ham on Friday and at home to Stoke nine days later, would secure the Championship trophy. Not that McCarthy was concerned about a silverware lining last night. Asked where the promotion ranked in his managerial career, the man who guided the Republic of Ireland to within a penalty shoot-out of the World Cup quarter-finals replied: "In terms of an achievement, it can't get much better. It's the best. It's the most recent."

McCarthy's team needed to show their mettle yesterday, after falling behind in the fifth minute. With Thomas Myhre still on the injured list, Ben Alnwick was given a debut in goal and the 18-year-old could do nothing to stop Alan Maybury curling a low shot around him and in off his left-hand post.

It might have been a good deal worse for Sunderland and their rookie keeper as Leicester strove to exploit the fraying nerves within the home ranks. Alnwick did well to save a David Connolly volley at close range and then brilliantly blocked a Mark de Vries shot on the line with his left foot. At the other end, Sunderland struggled to make an impression, but they gained parity in the 23rd minute.

Chris Brown found Stewart with a pass from the right and the veteran striker buried a low drive. It was his 17th goal of the season but it failed to settle Sunderland's nerves. It took a covering tackle by Stephen Wright on Stephen Hughes and a miscue in front of goal by Connolly to prevent Leicester from regaining the lead before the interval.

It was a different story after the break. Sunderland were on the front foot from the start and on the hour they had their winner. Liam Lawrence hoisted a corner from the left and Caldwell hit the target with a thumping header.

It was a fine finish by the central defender who left Newcastle last summer partly because Sir Bobby Robson kept mistaking him for his brother, Gary, who had long since moved on to Hibernian. As Sunderland's party went into full swing last night, Steve Caldwell had truly made a name for himself.

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