Kyle looks the part after breaking goal duck

Sunderland 2 Crystal Palace 1
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The Independent Football

Sunderland do nothing in half measures. Having only just avoided equalling the League record of 18 successive defeats, Mick McCarthy's team are now on a roll. Saturday's victory at the Stadium of Light was their fourth in a row and lifts them into fourth place in the First Division table.

The relief at falling just short of Darwen's 104-year-old record losing run was matched by Kevin Kyle's when he scored the first goal in the opening minute of the second half here. Remarkably, Sunderland's Scottish international centre-forward had never scored a goal in his 31 previous League appearances for the club until he controlled Gary Breen's pass and shot past Cedric Berthelin.

"I've scored for the reserves and youth team in the past, but never the first team," Kyle said after the match. "I've played well in recent games and although I didn't think I had such a good game today it's a relief to score. It's a weight off my shoulders."

While it hardly seems fair even to mention them in the same breath as Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn, there are signs that Sunderland's new strike partnership is beginning to bear fruit. Marcus Stewart is a proven goalscorer who has already found the net four times this season, and Kyle, a powerfully-built striker with a fair touch both on the ground and in the air, needs only to add goals to his game.

While his forwards show promise, McCarthy's defence is rapidly looking like the finished article. Breen, who marked Neil Shipperley out of the game, is a canny organiser, and McCarthy's astute move to switch the skilful Julio Arca to left-back is rapidly paying dividends. In their four-match winning run, the only goal Sunderland have conceded was Palace's 90th-minute equaliser here.

Their new spirit was epitomised in the closing stages. A tight game of few chances looked like ending in a draw - which would have been a fair result - when Andrew Johnson beat the advancing Mart Poom with a crisp finish after Wayne Routledge's run and clever through pass had split the home defence.

Palace, to the fury of their manager, Steve Kember, were then happy to spend injury time massed in their own penalty area while Sunderland launched an all-out assault. Berthelin saved superbly from Kyle's downward header, but from the resulting corner Shaun Derry handled the ball and Stewart stepped up to hit the winner. "Shaun told me it was accidental handball," Kember said. "He said the ball glanced off his head and rolled down his arm and he could do nothing about it."

Kember was also angry that the referee, Graham Salisbury, adjudged another clear handball, by Breen in his own penalty area 11 minutes earlier, to be accidental.

Palace defended competently throughout, but in the absence of Dougie Freedman and Tommy Black rarely looked capable of threatening in attack. Their bright start - three wins in three games - has been followed by three matches which have produced only one point and they need a good return from home games this week against Bradford City and West Bromwich Albion.

Goals: Kyle (46) 1-0; Johnson (89) 1-1; Stewart pen (90) 2-1.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Poom; Williams (Oster, h-t), Breen, McCartney, Arca; McAteer (Healy, 33), Thornton, Thirlwell, Butler (Proctor, 81); Kyle, Stewart. Substitutes not used: Ingham (gk), Clark.

Crystal Palace (5-2-2-1): Berthelin; Butterfield, Mullins, Symons (Watson, 59), Fleming, Smith (Borrowdale, 74); Derry, Hughes; Johnson, Routledge (Riihilahti, 90); Shipperley.

Referee: G Salisbury (Preston).

Bookings: Sunderland: Stewart, Kyle, McCartney. Crystal Palace: Hughes, Mullins.

Man of the match: Breen.

Attendance: 27,324.