Saint turned sinner Phillips has the last laugh

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The Independent Football

Kevin Phillips never did get to play for Southampton. At the Stadium of Light yesterday he got to play against them for the first time since Chris Nicholl showed him the door at The Dell and told him to find a career away from professional football. He made the most of it, too, showing his former employers precisely what they have missed out on. With his two latest Premiership goals, the rejected Saint consigned his one-time employers to defeat.

Kevin Phillips never did get to play for Southampton. At the Stadium of Light yesterday he got to play against them for the first time since Chris Nicholl showed him the door at The Dell and told him to find a career away from professional football. He made the most of it, too, showing his former employers precisely what they have missed out on. With his two latest Premiership goals, the rejected Saint consigned his one-time employers to defeat.

Told he was too small to be a striker and then, after converting to right-back, that he was not good enough to make the grade, Phillips took his tally in the top flight to 19 goals in 18 matches. Not that it was an entirely satisfactory afternoon for the one-time Southampton apprentice, whose 82nd-minute penalty was saved by Neil Moss.

That Sunderland have a goal poacher at the top of the Prem-iership scoring charts (their last player even to bag 20 goals in a top-flight season was Neil Martin during the dim and distant 1966-67 campaign) is a sign of the new-found status.

So is the £13m deal the Wearside club signed with BSkyB on Friday. Of more immediate value to Phillips is the £2.5m investment that Peter Reid has made in Kevin Kilbane, though the Sunderland manager chose to start with the flank-man waiting alongside him in the wings yesterday.

There was one Republic of Ireland player assisting Phillips from the kick-off, Niall Quinn having passed a pre-match fitness test on an ankle injury, while Claus Lundekvam was patched up to face Sunderland's in-form strike force after fracturing the little toe on his right foot in Southampton's Third Round FA Cup win at Ipswich last Monday night.

The Norwegian enjoyed considerable protection from his colleagues, too, Dave Jones having sent out his Saints to stifle their hosts with what, in the opening stages, amounted to a 10-man defensive blanket.

In attempting to draw the Southampton players out of their own half, Sunderland conceded the first chance, Marian Pahars intercepting Nicky Summerbee's attempted pass to Paul Butler and firing a 20-yard drive that Thomas Sorensen gathered comfortably enough.

Phillips had to drop into the left-back position to gain possession for the first time but it was his industry that pulled Sunderland out of their straightjacket. Drifting out deep on the right, his cross teed up Quinn with a looping header which had Paul Jones at full stretch for the first time.

The Southampton goalkeeper was struggling again in the 10th minute, though fortunately for him the chip shot Phillips delivered from the right edge of the area dropped on to the roof of the net. Phillips was off target with another chip and also miscued a half-volley. It was not all one-way traffic, though.

Southampton were swift on the break, but not swift enough. With Butler and Steve Bould keeping a tight rein on the Sunderland defence, the Saints were unable to get close enough to trouble Sorensen.

It was different at the other end. A cross-cum-shot by Summerbee had Jones in a flap in the 27th minute and prompted another sustained period of Sunderland pressure. Within three minutes, Phillips had made the breakthrough.

It was a clinically fashioned and clinically finished goal. Michael Gray hoisted a free-kick in from deep on the left, Quinn headed down on the right edge of the penalty area and Phillips, on the right angle of the six-yard box, pounced to smack a first-time, right-foot shot past Jones.

Sadly for Saints, the goal was not the only blow they suffered. Injured while diving at the feet of Phillips, Jones was helped off and replaced by Moss.

Stefan Schwarz unleashed long range efforts either side of half-time, though Moss was not seriously tested until the 55th minute and, even then, Butler's powerfully struck volley lacked the direction to beat him.

With James Beattie on for the young right-back Jo Tessem from the 50th minute and then Matthew Le Tissier introduced with 24 minutes left, Southampton had their chances. Unfortunately for them, however, Beattie, Pahars and Stuart Ripley were less than sure-footed in front of the home goal.

At least their shivering band of supporters had something to cheer about in the 82nd minute, when Phillips - who had been brought down by Lundekvam - had his penalty kick saved by the diving Moss.

Phillips, though, had the last laugh in the second minute of injury time. Kilbane, coming on in the 87th minute to replace Schwarz, crossed from the left and Quinn headed down at the far post for Sunderland's number nine to hook in his second goal.

Southampton at least had two strikers on the field for the final 40 minutes. Unfortunately for them, however, their golden chance to equalise fell to the less-than-sure-footed Ripley, who drove his right-footed shot over the crossbar with only Sorensen to beat.

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