Full force of Phillips exposes Villa flaws

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Kevin Phillips struck twice in the final half-hour at the Stadium of Light last night to put the Sunderland class of '99 into the club history books - and back in to third place in the Premiership.

Kevin Phillips struck twice in the final half-hour at the Stadium of Light last night to put the Sunderland class of '99 into the club history books - and back in to third place in the Premiership.

After Aston Villa and Dion Dublin, with a 47th-minute header, had threatened to create a little piece of history of their own - as the first visiting team to win a Premiership match at the Stadium of Light - Sunderland's goal-poaching England striker took his tally for the season to 12 in 11 matches with a penalty on the hour and then a close-range header from a Paul Butler cross with eight minutes left.

In doing so, he extended his team's run of Premiership victories to five, a feat last achieved by a Sunderland side in November 1936, the week after the Jarrow Marchers reached London and the week before Edward VIII swapped his crown for Wallis Simpson.

The Villa manager, John Gregory, has tipped Sunderland to finish in a qualifying place for the Uefa Cup, though he knows only too well how a promising season in autumn can turn into a winter of discontent. Top of the table at this stage last term, Villa finished out of the European picture.

The match began at a furious pace and after early pressure from Sunderland it was Villa who settled better. They should have scored in the 16th minute but, after outpacing Michael Gray, Darius Vassell hesitated as Thomas Sorensen approached him and pushed the ball wide in attempting to bypass the Sunderland goalkeeper.

Sorensen became increasingly exposed as Villa prised open the home guard with the swiftness of their counter-attacking. Gareth Barry tested the Dane with a 20-yard drive, Dublin poked a close-range shot narrowly wide and Ian Taylor flicked a Vassell cross into the side-netting.

It was Peter Reid's turn to agonise on the touchline as his side creaked under the pressure. Overrun in midfield and in danger of being overwhelmed at the back, Sunderland did, at least, contrive one threat of their own before the break, Quinn steering wide the cross Gray landed on his forehead from wide on the left.

Unfortunately for Sunderland, Dublin was more accurate with his head from roughly the same spot two minutes into the second half. After Vassell crashed to the ground under challenge from behind by Steve Bould, Alan Thompson floated a free-kick from just outside the right angle of the penalty area and Dublin rose, unchallenged, on the six-yard line to plant the ball inside the near post.

It was no more than Villa deserved - or Sunderland, for that matter. Not until the 50th minute did the home side force a save from James, and Phillips' long-range effort hardly troubled the former England keeper.

It was a different story, though, from 12 yards 10 minutes later. Phillips crashed his penalty shot past the diving James, though he was more than fortunate to get the chance for a handling offence that amounted to no more than the ball striking Mark Delaney on the back of his upper arm as Quinn attempted to chest it over the unfortunate Villan.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Bould, Butler, Gray; Summerbee (Reddy, 80), Rae (Roy, 75), McCann (Ball, 80), Schwarz; Phillips, Quinn. Substitutes not used: Dichio, Reddy, Marriott (gk).

Aston Villa (3-5-2): James; Calderwood, Southgate, Barry; Delaney, Boateng (Stone, 80), Taylor , Hendrie, Thompson; Dublin, Vassell (Merson, 50). Substitutes not used: Watson, Wright, Enckelman (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Comments