Never mind calling themselves the Black Cats, Sunderland must have run over a few recently. Last night luck deserted them again, with an early dismissal, as they were destroyed by a vibrant Crystal Palace who are gate-crashing the play-offs with gusto.
That event is something Norwich City need not worry about. This result confirmed their promotion to the Premiership after an absence of nine years. The Cats may still make it, the Canaries already have. Palace are no longer an outside bet. The points, capped by a superb third goal, took them level with sixth-placed West Ham with a less testing run-in. "We're hungry with a great desire," Iain Dowie, the Palace manager, said.
The game exploded into life after 19 minutes. Palace's Andy Johnson burst into the penalty area and was caught, fractionally late by the goalkeeper Mart Poom. Possession appeared to have already been lost but the penalty was, probably correctly, given. As was a red card. After four minutes, with Sunderland deciding to sacrifice Tommy Smith for the substitute goalkeeper Thomas Myhre, Johnson smashed the penalty into the middle of the goal. Myhre had no chance and Johnson had his 27th goal this term. "I've no argument with the sending off," Mick McCarthy, the Sunderland manager, said. "But it changed the game."
Even before then Palace had been the sharper team. Three times Poom had reacted smartly - to pluck a dangerous cross, turn away a tricky shot and to charge quickly to dispossess Neil Shipperley. Sunderland were without the captain George McCartney, injured, but Jason McAteer returned from suspension. He, like the rest of Sunderland's midfield, was over-run.
Palace had too much pace, Michael Hughes too much purpose. Their zip was made all the more keen by the surge they have enjoyed under Dowie. It is 12 wins from 20 games which have revived their fortunes, propelling them upwards. Palace pressed the advantage and Sunderland, struggling, were caught up in a flurry of cautions. With one of those Gary Breen was fortunate not to receive a red card after a ludicrous pull on Julian Gray. Sunderland, literally, were holding on to Palace's shirt-tails.
Their grip on the game loosened further. Johnson - his speed again a problem - sprinted down the right and crossed for Shipperley to head beyond Myhre from six yards.
Tiredness, after their heavy programme, swamped Sunderland and the substitute Dougie Freedman sapped them further with a perfectly-executed right-footed volley from Johnson's flicked header, just four minutes after coming on.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Vaesen; Butterfield, Leigertwood, Popovic, Granville; Routledge (Black,81), Riihilhati (Derry, 79), Hughes, Gray; Shipperley (Freedman, 76), Johnson. Substitutes not used: Berthelin (gk), Symons.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Poom; Williams, Breen, Babb, Arca; Piper (Oster, 60), McAteer, Whitley, Smith (Myhre, 21); Kyle, Byfield (Stewart, 60). Substitutes not used: Thornton, Bjorklund.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).Reuse content