Derby stumble as Elliott cuts loose

Derby County 0 - Sunderland 2
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The Independent Football

Sunderland extended a fine run of away form yesterday to reinforce their prospects of claiming automatic promotion to the Premiership, two goals in the second half closing the gap between Mick McCarthy's side and second-placed Wigan to three points. The Wearsiders have now won five of their last six matches away from the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland extended a fine run of away form yesterday to reinforce their prospects of claiming automatic promotion to the Premiership, two goals in the second half closing the gap between Mick McCarthy's side and second-placed Wigan to three points. The Wearsiders have now won five of their last six matches away from the Stadium of Light.

Stephen Elliott, the 21-year-old Republic of Ireland striker McCarthy signed from Manchester City last summer, was the key figure in a match characterised more by endeavour than quality, scoring his side's opener six minutes after half-time before setting up Dean Whitehead for the second a quarter of an hour later.

Elliott, who cost an initial £125,000 set by tribunal, is proving something of a bargain. Given his chance because of a long-term injury to Kevin Kyle, he has established himself as Sunderland's leading goalscorer. Yesterday's strike, pushed home from close range after Julio Arca's shot had been parried by Lee Camp, took him to 12 goals for the season.

Always a threat to a Derby defence that has leaked more goals at home than any in the division, Elliott then supplied the cross from which Whitehead - with some measure of luck - made the points safe. It was the Irishman's persistence on the left that kept the ball in play and Whitehead met his low cross with a thumping shot that struck Derby's Michael Johnson but cannoned back into Whitehead and into the net.

"The players knew there was some pressure to get a result after both Ipswich and Wigan had won on Saturday but I thought we deserved the points," McCarthy said.

"I think the top sides will keep cutting each other's throats right up until the end of the season."

Derby, who had a first-half penalty claim turned down after Grzegorz Rasiak appeared to be brought down by Neil Collins, went closest when their Spanish midfielder, Inigo Idiakez, hit the bar with a second-half free-kick. George Burley's side have now lost their last three home games, a record that has undermined their own chances of clinching a play-off place.

"We have given away bad goals at home and that is why we are not in the top six," Burley said.

Goals: Elliott (51) 0-1; Whitehead (66) 0-2.

Derby County (4-4-2): Camp; Kenna, Mills, Johnson (Junior, 83), Jackson; Bisgaard (Taylor, 83), Idiakez, Huddlestone, Reich (Peschisolido, 61); Smith, Rasiak. Substitutes not used: Grant (gk), Boertien.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Myhre; Wright, N Collins, D Collins, McCartney; Whitehead, Robinson, Whitley, Arca; Elliott (Brown, 72), Stewart. Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Welsh, Thornton, Lynch.

Referee: P Crossley (Kent).

Booked: Derby Johnson, Idiakez; Sunderland: McCartney, Robinson, Arca.

Man of the match: Elliott.

Attendance: 22,995.

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