McAteer's strike gives Sunderland new impetus

Sunderland 3 Bradford City 0
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The Independent Football

As centenary years go, Bradford City's will take some forgetting. It is quite likely they will end it bottom of the First Division and since they are already 10 points from safety, 2004 will have to be quite remarkable for them to avoid sinking further into obscurity.

At the time of his appointment - even after the remarkable 3-2 victory over Millwall which began his return to management two years after leaving Middlesbrough - you wondered what Bryan Robson saw in Bradford and what they saw in him. Now, after five straight defeats without a goal, the wondering continues.

Robson said he would use his extensive contacts in football to revive a stricken club but he would have to persuade Brian McClair to release the entire Manchester United youth team to have any real impact on the desperate situation he faces this morning. Robson's record at Boro was highly creditable but he is at his best when dealing with quality players, something which would have happened had the deal to make him Nigeria's coach not collapsed.

It is not his forte to coach the best out of indifferent journeymen footballers, and he has plenty of those at Valley Parade. David Wetherall, the club captain is due back for the last home game of the year tomorrow while Alun Armstrong arrives today from Ipswich to begin a loan spell.

They will be needed: "There were too many players hiding today," Robson admitted. "They did not want to pass and receive and that's why we gave a performance like that." Since breaking through in Ron Atkinson's compelling West Bromwich teams, Robson has spent only two seasons outside the top flight and in both of those he led Middlesbrough to promotion. This, he said, was the most difficult assignment he has been handed, while denying that the lower reaches of the First Division were alien territory.

"Football is football, when I wasn't in management I was watching, but you can't say we're playing as I like my teams to play."

That is an understatement. Sunderland under Mick McCarthy are not a freescoring side, all neat approach play topped off with less-than-incisive finishing, but the fact remains that in their two matches with Bradford this season the Wearsiders have found the net seven times. Yesterday, they might have managed many more than three. Tommy Smith, who eventually scored his first for Sunderland with a fine effort from a narrow angle, had driven fiercely against the foot of the post, while Kevin Kyle, who also found his way on to the scoresheet, struck the top of the crossbar.

The first goal came from Sunderland's 11th shot of the match. It was all brutally one-sided. It fell to Jason McAteer, a man who has been with McCarthy in all climates, to finally break through a minute before half-time.

Stephen Wright, hemmed in by three defenders on the edge of the Bradford area, dug the ball out to McAteer, whose strike flew into the top corner of Mark Paston's net. The only doubt that then surrounded the result came when some flimsy defending allowed first Ben Muirhead and then Michael Branch clear runs at goal which were smothered by Mart Poom.

Robson was frank enough to state that had either chance gone in, it would have made a travesty of the match.

Smith's goal settled the affair while Kyle's put it beyond the reaches of the most unlikely fightback. It was a typical strike for a man of Kyle's height and build; a corner from John Oster which the big Scotsman headed home effortlessly. Sunderland are enigmatic players in the promotion race.

Since October, they have not beaten any team of consequence in the division but are now again embedded in the play-off pack, which would have been more than most of a fan base noted for its pessimism would have expected as the new year beckons.

Goals: McAteer (44) 1-0; Smith (67) 2-0; Kyle (81) 3-0.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Poom; Wright, Bjorklund, Babb, McCartney (Williams, 85); McAteer, Whitley, Thirlwell (Kyle, 33), Oster; Smith, Stewart (Proctor 80). Substitutes not used: Butler, Ingham (gk).

Bradford City (4-4-2): Paston; Francis (Jacobs, 85), Gavin, Atherton, Heckingbottom; Muirhead (Standing, 64), Kearney, Farrelly, Gray; Branch, Windass (Forrest, 85). Substitutes not used: Bower, Combe (gk).

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Bookings: Sunderland: Wright, McCartney. Bradford: Windass.

Man of the match: McAteer.

Attendance: 29,639.