Phillips goal survives a Derby comeback

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The Independent Online

Derby's comeback crown slipped a little further when they failed to pull themselves out of this little mess. They found themselves two goals down with seven minutes remaining of a match they should have won in a conventional manner, and although Malcolm Christie halved the deficit, when Deon Burton missed the target by inches in the penultimate minute and Lee Morris missed the ball altogether on the penalty-spot in the last minute, Kevin Phillips' goal proved just enough for a stuttering Sunderland.

Derby's comeback crown slipped a little further when they failed to pull themselves out of this little mess. They found themselves two goals down with seven minutes remaining of a match they should have won in a conventional manner, and although Malcolm Christie halved the deficit, when Deon Burton missed the target by inches in the penultimate minute and Lee Morris missed the ball altogether on the penalty-spot in the last minute, Kevin Phillips' goal proved just enough for a stuttering Sunderland.

Three times this season, Derby have come from at least two goals down to take a point but they have yet to register an all-important win.

"The encouraging thing is that if we keep playing and keep creating chances we have to believe we will go on and win," said their manager Jim Smith.

"I must admit I wasn't at my most confident in the last seven minutes," said the Sunderland manager, Peter Reid. "You know with Jim Smith's sides that they will always keep coming at you, but we clung on and deserved it."

Perhaps it was because, even this early in the season, both sides started the game with worried looks at the bottom of the table that, so early into the game, the players were shooting accusatory glances at one another for unmade runs and squandered possession. Sunderland were the most culpable, and in the 11th minute, Burton shot over after Seth Johnson's beautifully curling pass had panicked Chris Makin into taking neither ball nor man.

Seconds later, Darren Williams passed to Burton on the edge of his own area. Williams quickly recovered, but by then Burton had found Georgi Kinkladze, whose shot was athletically turned over by Thomas Sorensen.

It was time for Sunderland to stand up and be counted. Niall Quinn rose hugely to flick on to Phillips and suddenly last season's leading scorer in Europe was bearing down on goal. At a great speed he took the ball in his stride, but was a whisker too high with his shot.

Another of Quinn's promptings had come before kick-off when he said his Irish international team-mate Kevin Kilbane was just "a moment away from greatness." Now, in the 40th minute, Kilbane chose his moment. Languidly he drifted off his right-wing, wafting his way around Johnson and Danny Higginbotham while transferring the ball on to his favourite left foot. With that, from the corner of the area, he deliciously curled the ball around Mart Poom and into the corner of the net and Sunderland, who had failed to attack in numbers and who had often been one short at the back, were one up. It was nearly two when on the stroke of half time, Don Hutchison clipped the bar with a free kick.

The second half was more balanced but the game tilted when, in the 73rd minute, Phillips rediscovered his goal touch. He stumbled his way on to Quinn's return pass and, at the second attempt, poked it past Poom for his second goal in six games.

Cue Derby's comeback attempt. "Sturridge must have had four one-on-ones and at this level you have to say thank you very much," said Smith.

Eventually Christie nipped into score, but as further chances came and went it was Hutchison who came closest when he again rattled the Rams' bar.

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