Carpenter helps to nail wooden Sunderland

Brighton & Hove Albion 2 - Sunderland 1
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The Independent Football

Opportunity knocked, and Sunderland turned it disdainfully away. If Mick McCarthy's side do not gain automatic promotion this season, they will look back on this afternoon, and wonder how they failed to take anything from a game in which they held a numerical advantage for an hour. With Ipswich having drawn on Friday, this looked a chance for them to close on the leaders, and possibly supplant Wigan in second. As it is, they now lie three points adrift in third.

Opportunity knocked, and Sunderland turned it disdainfully away. If Mick McCarthy's side do not gain automatic promotion this season, they will look back on this afternoon, and wonder how they failed to take anything from a game in which they held a numerical advantage for an hour. With Ipswich having drawn on Friday, this looked a chance for them to close on the leaders, and possibly supplant Wigan in second. As it is, they now lie three points adrift in third.

Brighton must take credit for their doughtiness in withstanding a second-half pummelling, but the truth is that Sunderland were poor. As Brighton continue their fight for permission to build a new ground at Falmer - "the long and grinding road" as their chairman Dick Knight put it - much was made in the build-up of the fact that the inhabitants of the division's best, or at least largest, stadium would be visiting its worst.

The self-mockery and bitterness of Brighton fans is understandable, but this Sunderland are far from swaggering grandees. They may be part of a top three that has pulled away from the rest of the Championship, but in this League, these days, that is just a paler shade of mediocrity. Woefully devoid of verve, Sunderland hardly looked like scoring despite having virtually all the early possession.

Sunderland can feel unfortunate to have fallen behind to Brighton's first attack, Richard Carpenter's volley deflecting past Thomas Myhre after 25 minutes. There can be few excuses, though, for their lethargy in the rest of the first half.

It seemed that the initiative had been returned to them when Adam Virgo, already booked for clattering Steve Caldwell, was sent off after a rash lunge at Jeff Whitley on the half-hour, but by half-time they were two down, an unchallenged Mark McCammon nodding in Carpenter's left-wing corner two minutes before the break. McCarthy described the marking as "unforgivable".

Sunderland's half-time switch to 4-3-3 at least shifted the game's focus into the Brighton half, but they struggled to find a way through the massed defence.

Julio Arca finally pulled one back with nine minutes left, and Sean Thornton then struck a post and Stephen Wright had a header well-saved by Rami Shaaban, but the cavalry charge was all too late.

The former Arsenal keeper was making his debut after being taken on trial, but the Brighton manager Mark McGhee will now be looking him to sign him until the end of the season. "I wasn't prepared to sign him until I'd seen him in a game, but I've seen enough now," he said. "He's a quiet goalkeeper, no fuss about him and I'll be sitting down with the chairman and him this week."

McGhee was delighted by his side's resilience, and believes three more wins will ensure Brighton's second-flight survival. "The job's still got to be done," he said, "but if we can do it, it would be a great achievement given the circumstances."

McCarthy was left to bemoan "a lack of quality" and to concede that Brighton "were more committed in both boxes". Sunderland remain comfortable in third, six points clear of Preston, and, on the listlessness of yesterday's showing, that is just as well.

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