The McCarthy era started on Wearside a year ago with the first of 11 successive defeats, 2-0 against Bolton at the Stadium of Light. Twelve months on, Mick McCarthy has got Sunderland into the semi-finals of the FA Cup and within 90 minutes of a Uefa Cup place. His second year as Sunderland manager opened with a win yesterday, and with the promise of a trip to Cardiff in the play-offs, if not of automatic promotion.
Not that it was a momentous occasion. Far from it. Last Wednesday, Sunderland lost three leads before drawing 3-3 with Preston and for an hour yesterday they were as clueless as West Ham in a contest of Inspector Clouseau-class incompetence. "For two of the top teams in the League it wasn't pretty," McCarthy said afterwards, with understatement. Still, by the final whistle only the East Enders in attendance were complaining, goals by Kevin Kyle and Jeff Whitley having added momentum to Sunderland's promotion push and pricked West Ham's rising bubble of hope. McCarthy's men are up to seventh in the First Division, just one point from the play-off places with two or three games in hand of the teams above them. "They are three big points for us," McCarthy said. "I don't give a fiddle how we got them. We've played teams off the park here and haven't won. There weren't many nice pretty patterns and there wasn't much flowing football but for me that's a great Saturday afternoon."
For Alan Pardew, it was not such a satisfying day. His team dropped from third to fifth after suffering their first defeat in nine First Division fixtures. "I'm disappointed that we didn't give a better account of ourselves," the West Ham manager said. "We've got some big, big games coming up and we've got to be more aggressive. We were too nice today." Not that Pardew was happy about the aggressive challenge, by Sunderland's Stephen Wright, which resulted in Matthew Etherington being taken off on a stretcher on the quarter-hour. At least the incident relieved the tedium.It took 27 minutes for the first opening to materialise and, even then, Joel McAnuff's volley was comfortably gathered by Mart Poom.
Sunderland were little better. Their first chance came in first-half injury-time, Whitley steering a volley across the face of the goal. There was no improvement immediately after the interval, but on the hour Kyle finally broke the deadlock. George McCartney hoisted a free-kick from deep on the left and Kyle, lying on the ground, hooked a right-footed shot into the left corner of the net.
It took a goal-line clearance by Wright to stop Nigel Reo-Coker making an equalising connection two minutes later, but with 14 minutes to play the points were effectively in the bag for Sunderland. Whitley started and finished the move for his first Sunderland goal, the midfielder playing a prompting ball to Sean Thornton and then nicking the ball into the net off the feet of the dallying Christian Dailly after Stephen Bywater had parried Thornton's shot.
It left McCarthy reflecting contentedly on 12 months of progress at the Stadium of Light. "When I arrived, the place was on its arse," he said. "It's a nicer place to come to work, that's for sure."
Sunderland 2 West Ham United 0
Kyle 61, Whitley 76
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 29,533