McAteer shoots down old club

Sunderland 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Football

There is famously no such thing as a free lunch and the one Sam Allardyce will buy Peter Reid could prove very expensive.

The managers of Sunderland and Bolton, who were in the last Wanderers side to avoid relegation in the top flight, go out to dinner after playing each other with the loser picking up the bill. With Blackburn a point behind with a game in hand and having lost their leading scorer, Michael Ricketts, to a knee injury, the price of defeat for Bolton could be more than steak and a bottle of wine.

In terms of quality, the match was abysmal but on Wearside they will not care. For a team which had previously scraped together four goals in their last seven home games, any kind of victory would be celebrated as if it were the work of Puskas and Pele.

The goal which settled the contest was shocking, not because of how it arrived but when. Until last night Sunderland had not scored in the first half of a Premiership match at the Stadium of Light since the opening day of the season. In order to flatten an uneven surface, one side of the pitch had been watered until it resembled a marsh. However, that did not prevent Kevin Kilbane playing a superbly-timed pass to Kevin Phillips in the 42rd minute. He threaded the ball into Jason McAteer's path and the former Bolton player took his first goal in a red-and-white shirt with aplomb. The timing made it such a rarity that the electronic scoreboard did not believe it, jamming on 0-0 for at least 60 seconds.

Frankly, Sunderland might have had two more. Whether it is the sheer weight of responsibility of leading one of the country's most toothless attacks or the constant speculation about his future, Phillips appears to have lost his verve, and from six yards out he scooped an early shot over the bar. His strike partner Patrick Mboma was also hindered by a back injury and by the shock of losing his best friend, Jason Mayelé, who played for Chievo, in a car crash at the weekend.

McAteer's miss was even worse, redeemed only by the fact that he was later to score. Put through splendidly by a pass from Stefan Schwarz which made a mockery of the conditions, McAteer could only send a tame shot dribbling towards Jaaskelainen. Bolton threatened on the break and mainly through Youri Djorkaeff. Their best chance came in the closing minutes when Rod Wallace aimed his shot fractionally wide, while in the first half the former Rangers striker was denied by Thomas Sorensen when clean through.

"You have to take your chances and the bottom line is that we are in a pressure situation," said Allardyce, who lost Mike Whitlow with broken ribs. "The biggest disappointment was not tonight but on Saturday (against Blackburn) when we had the opportunity to take three points and did not."

The second half declined in quality with every passing minute. Sunderland, who this season had not previously won a Premiership match in which the opposition had scored, appeared content to cling on to their lead, while Bolton lacked the firepower to crack open a defence in which Jody Craddock was the dominant figure.

Significantly, the poor quality of Sunderland's football has finally begun to tell on Wearside's astonishing appetite for the game; the attendance of just over 43,000 was their lowest in the Premiership this season. Since both these clubs have been relegated with 40 points in recent seasons, each set of supporters would have gone home knowing they were not yet safe.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen 6; Haas 3, Williams 6, Craddock 8, McCartney 6; Gray 5, McAteer 6, Schwarz 6, Kilbane 5; Mboma 5 (Quinn, 90), Phillips 5. Substitutes not used: Varga, Bellion, Butler, Macho (gk).

Bolton Wanderers (3-4-1-2): Jaaskelainen 7; N'Gotty 6, Bergsson 5, Whitlow 5 (Barness 5, h-t), Southall 4, Tofting 6, Warhurst 5 (Espartero, 68), Gardner 6; Djorkaeff 7; Wallace 5, Ricketts 5 (Holdsworth 5, 56). Substitutes not used: Nolan, Poole (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire) 6.