Elliott proving cost effective

Crewe Alexandra 0 - Sunderland 1
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The Independent Football

Kevin Keegan's miserable £52m record in the transfer record was dissected in many papers yesterday. Most tore apart his expensive buys at Maine Road, but no one mentioned how Manchester City let reserve striker Stephen Elliott's contract run out and how he ultimately joined Sunderland for a tribunal-set fee of just £125,000 last summer.

Kevin Keegan's miserable £52m record in the transfer record was dissected in many papers yesterday. Most tore apart his expensive buys at Maine Road, but no one mentioned how Manchester City let reserve striker Stephen Elliott's contract run out and how he ultimately joined Sunderland for a tribunal-set fee of just £125,000 last summer.

Elliott, 21, who has become an Ireland international this season, came on to score the goal that leaves Sunderland joint top of the Championship table with Wigan, and Ipswich just three points behind.

It also marked his 14th goal of the season and emphasised the key role he has played in enabling Mick McCarthy's side to dream justifiably of a place in the Premiership.

For this game was far from going Sunderland's way before McCarthy sent Elliott on as a second-half substitute along with the Argentinian midfielder Julio Arca.

A relieved McCarthy said: "Both of them were carrying injuries and while I didn't think they would last 90 minutes I felt they had the ability to make an impact from the bench. They did just that and sometimes these decisions work out in your favour and you get credit, but ultimately we win and lose collectively.

"My scouts recommended Elliott and he chose us ahead of Celtic because I think he felt he had more of a chance with us. It has worked out extremely well for everyone concerned. That was a vital win and although we still have to go to Ipswich and Wigan, it could be hard-earned wins like this one that ultimately settle the race. I'm happy, relieved and delighted."

Crewe have now gone 12 games without a win since they sold striker Dean Ashton to Norwich, but shocked Sunderland by setting the pace in the first half. McCarthy wasted little time making changes in the second half, sending Elliott on for the ineffective Michael Bridges and Arca for Stan Thornton within a few minutes of each other. No wonder the anxious McCarthy finally allowed himself a quick sit down in the dugout as Arca had not been on the pitch for a minute when he laid on the 58th-minute goal.

Elliott started the move by playing in Arca on the left and a good run ended with a low shot that rebounded off a post and Elliott blasted the rebound into an empty net from a few yards out. Crewe, now focused on a potential relegation battle, raised their tempo in response and Luke Varney had a header saved on the line by Thomas Myhre. Dario Gradi, their manager, then sent on Steve Jones to further bolster their attack.

That move did little to unsettle the 2,268 Sunderland contingent in an above average 7,949 crowd, nor the visiting players, as McCarthy's men ultimately emerged as worthy winners.

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