Preston North End 4 Sunderland 1: Simpson upstages Keane with emphatic triumph

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The Independent Football

Paul Simpson may never be the kind of tourist attraction for the Ribble Valley that Roy Keane is proving to be on Wearside, but he is certainly putting Preston's football team on the map.

North End's endearingly low-key manager emerged victorious in the most emphatic manner against a counterpart who is eminently more high-profile but who, on this evidence, has a Herculean task to shake Sunderland out of a mid-table stupor, the result of some inconsistent displays.

"There's no doubt Preston will be up there at the end of the season," Keane said after watching his side dismantled for the second consecutive away game, his only consolation a second-half Stan Varga header. "Preston are a good benchmark for us, and showed where we need to be heading to try to get back into the Premiership, but I thought 4-1 was a bit harsh on us."

With Preston up to third, courtesy of a nine-game unbeaten run in the League, Simpson begged to differ. "The scoreline was a fair reflection, no one can question that. You can't deny we're third on merit. By now the table starts to pan out, there's a hell of a lot of points still to play for, but with a bit of luck we can keep going."

Danny Dichio, the former Sunderland striker who defied a virulent bug that caused him to throw up at half-time, headed his first League goal for Preston after 42 games to suggest that this would not be a favourable afternoon for Keane.

Graham Alexander, who provided the cross, doubled the lead with a penalty following Nyron Nosworthy's foul on Simon Whaley, who struck the fourth goal with a low 20-yard drive. In between, Dean Whitehead diverted David Nugent's cross into his own net.

With the contest over inside 35 minutes, Keane's reaction at the interval was predictable. "What goes on in the dressing-room stays in the dressing-room," David Connolly, just about the only Sunderland player to emerge with any credit, insisted. "We know it wasn't good enough for the manager, and he's told us. It's frustrating and we're all banging our heads." At half-time Keane was no doubt happy to assist them in that particular task.

Goals: Dichio 18 (1-0); Alexander 31 pen (2-0); Whitehead 35 og (3-0); Whaley 55 (4-0); Varga 56 (4-1).

Preston North End (4-4-2): Nash; Alexander, St Ledger, Chilvers, Hill; Whaley (Neal 73), Sedgwick, McKenna, Pugh (Davidson 78); Dichio, Nugent (Ormerod 69). Substitutes not used: Lonergan (gk), Davidson, Wilson.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Alnwick; Nosworthy, Varga, D Collins, Clarke; Lawrence, Leadbitter, Whitehead, Hysen (Wallace 52); Connolly, Murphy (Yorke 62). Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Brown, N Collins.

Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).

Man of the match: Alexander.

Attendance: 19,603.