Elliott leads youthful charge

Sunderland 3 Preston North End 1
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The Independent Online

Sunderland's blend of youth and experience eased them to their third consecutive victory with their older heads calling the shots and their 20-year-olds scoring the goals.

Sunderland's blend of youth and experience eased them to their third consecutive victory with their older heads calling the shots and their 20-year-olds scoring the goals.

Stephen Elliott, whose fee after his move from Manchester City was only settled in midweek by a tribunal, took his season's tally to five goals with a pair and Darren Carter, who arrived in midweek on a three-month loan from Birmingham, grabbed a debut goal.

But it was the older heads who did the donkey work. Mart Poom produced a splendid save to deny Dickson Etuhu, while Poom's fellow 32-year-old Marcus Stewart scavenged for every loose ball. He made and missed a penalty, although Carter slammed home the rebound.

And then there was Julio Arca. In the 25th minute another devastating turn won him space in the area and his shot was parried by goalkeeper Andy Lonergan to Elliott, who tapped it home.

But then Sunderland's balance of youngsters and older hands was destabilised by stupidity. The taking of Preston's first corner was delayed as referee Alan Kaye lectured Steven Caldwell and Richard Cresswell about their barging behaviour. Caldwell clearly continued to restrain Cresswell and as the ball came over the former Leicester striker tumbled and a penalty was awarded. Graham Alexander buried it convincingly.

Yet the referee balanced matters up on the stroke of half-time when wily Stewart spun to the floor. He got up to take the penalty, but his stop-start run-up resulted in a feeble kick which Lonergan pushed out, only for Carter to score on the rebound.

Five minutes after the interval, Sunderland won the game. Arca undid Preston with a sublime pass to George McCartney. His cross was steered home by Elliott, who was only playing because of a long-term injury to Kevin Kyle, but the tribunal's decision of £125,000, rising dependant on appearances, looks a bargain. The Irish lad left early to a standing ovation and mutterings about the arrival of "the new Kevin Phillips".

"He looks a good player," said his manager, Mick McCarthy. "He's scored at every level he's been at but has never been tested at this level."

Sunderland then threatened to demolish North End, but they were subdued on the hour by a bad injury to Carl Robinson, who was taken to hospital in a neck brace.

But still Preston, who have lost two of their four games since the departure of their manager Craig Brown, were easily contained. Caretaker Billy Davies said: "It was a fair result. We didn't have enough players on top of their game and here you need 11 players on top of their game if you are going to get anything."

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