Sunderland 2 Plymouth Argyle 3: Quinn's quest for salvation becomes urgent

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With three defeats from his first three fixtures, Sunderland's new manager could quite reasonably be expected to explain himself to the club's chairman at what could be a heated meeting this morning.

Sunderland, the Black Cats, may have left England's top flight with their red and white tails tucked firmly between their legs, but promotion from the Championship was a pre-season prerequisite.

With a talented if thin squad at his disposal, the club's rookie manager never expected to be down among the dead men, near the foot of the table, less than a fortnight into the new season. No wonder the chairman is becoming visibly restless.

Niall Quinn, of course, will both escape censure and be denied the opportunity to vent his spleen. Such is life for the brave, some would say foolish, incumbent of an exacting dual role. As manager, Quinn knows his job is safe. As chairman, the amiable Irishman accepts he must be seen to be the decisive and strong personality his predecessor, Mick McCarthy, rarely was.

Hence "St Niall", as he has been dubbed by a section of the Sunderland support who believe he will ultimately emerge as the club's long-term saviour, is about to become Quinn the sinner. At least he is in the eyes of those players he has already assessed and subsequently deemed unsuitable for the challenges which lie ahead.

"Only the tough will survive," confirmed Quinn after a second home defeat in four days. "Some of the players won't make the cut. Those who react positively will stay around. I don't want to be too critical but this is a serious situation. The closure of the transfer window is looming. I know I've got to bring one or two players in."

Quinn hopes to hear from the new Aston Villa manager, Martin O'Neill, later today over the future of his main target, the forward Kevin Phillips. But it is in defence that Sunderland are deficient.

After the striker Daryl Murphy had given the home side the lead within 26 seconds, it was Argyle who took a 2-1 advantage into the break. A stunning individual effort from the midfielder David Norris levelled the scores and the centre-half Danny Collins turned Barry Hayles' fierce drive into the goal six minutes before the interval.

The Irishman Stephen Elliott's 67th-minute header made it 2-2 but Plymouth's substitute, Nick Chadwick, drilled a low shot beneath Sunderland's goalkeeper, Ben Alnwick, eight minutes from time to seal all three points for the Pilgrims.

"Heads went down and we became disjointed and you could smell that mistakes were in the air," said Quinn. "I need characters to burst through that, stick their chests out and be stronger mentally. To go on and press the self-destruct button in the last few minutes was very hard to take."

Goals: Murphy (1) 1-0; Norris (8) 1-1; D Hayles (39) 1-2; S Elliott (67) 2-2; Chadwick (82) 2-3.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Alnwick; Delap, Cunningham, D Collins, Clarke (Wright, 20); Lawrence (Stead, 58), Whitehead, Leadbitter, Miller (Brown, 63); S Elliott, Murphy. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), N Collins.

Plymouth Argyle (4-4-2): McCormick; Connolly, Doumbe, Aljofree, Hodges; Norris, Wotton, Summerfield (Buzsaky, 71), Capaldi; Ebanks-Blake (Chadwick, 71), Hayles. Substitutes not used: Sawyer, Reid, Djordic.

Referee: R Olivier (West Midlands).

Man of the match: Norris.

Attendance: 24,377.

Black Catastrophes

Niall Quinn has seen his side lose their first three Championship games. It is an eerily similar start to the 2005-06 Premiership season, in which Sunderland were relegated.

* 13 AUGUST 2005 Sunderland 1 Charlton 3

* 20 AUGUST 2005 Liverpool 1 Sunderland 0

* 23 AUGUST 2005 Sunderland 1 Man City 2

* 27 AUGUST 2005 Wigan 1 Sunderland 0

* 10 SEPTEMBER 2005 Chelsea 2 Sunderland 0

* 17 SEPTEMBER 2005 Sunderland 1 West Brom 1

* 25 SEPTEMBER 2005 Middlesbro 0 Sunderland 2