Sunderland's weak defence mocks Premiership case

Ipswich Town 2 - Sunderland 2
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The Independent Online

"We're going up," sang the travelling Sunderland support and they have a point. As for stating a case that they will stay in the Premiership - to which they will surely earn promotion in the next three weeks - the jury is out on that one.

"We're going up," sang the travelling Sunderland support and they have a point. As for stating a case that they will stay in the Premiership - to which they will surely earn promotion in the next three weeks - the jury is out on that one.

Five points clear of Ipswich, who remain third, the Black Cats are still top of the Championship and they will have already heard the one about them being guaranteed three seasons in the top flight - autumn, winter and spring. This performance did nothing to belie that belief.

If Sunderland are to make a mockery of that joke, their defence needs urgent repair work. Alarm bells were ringing as early as the eighth minute from that old ploy, the long throw-in that bounced and missed the centre-halves. Were it not for Darren Bent's header over from short range they would have been chasing the game from then on.

As it was they were behind after a goalkeeping error let in Richard Naylor after 66 minutes. Although they rallied to take the lead, that laxity caught up with them again when both Gary Breen and Steve Caldwell were guilty of trying to mark Pablo Counago, leaving Bent unmarked for the last-minute equaliser from the Spaniard's cushioned pass.

Mick McCarthy, the Sunderland manager, would only look to their next game: "If we just win our next game we can put pressure on everybody else. But disasters do happen." A win this weekend at home to Leicester and Ipswich failing to do the same at Leeds will confirm their promotion.

When they do achieve it, McCarthy will have further headaches in his defence, particularly in the goalkeeping department. His first two choices are Mart Poom and Thomas Myhre, both of whom are now injured and who have tried and failed in the Premiership, so he had to pick Michael Ingham for his full League debut after six years at the club. Ingham is being released in the summer.

The goals flowed in the second half, although that was more through sheer persistence after a nervy start by both sides and the referee. The official gave a penalty for a clearly unintentional handball by Fabian Wilnis after 24 minutes and Marcus Stewart, an Ipswich hero of seasons gone by, did the decent thing and shot wide.

Naylor's goal after Ingham's fumble opened the floodgates but it took two substitutions by Sunderland to turn the game the visitors' way. When McCarthy does his Premiership thinking for next season, Brian Deane, aged 37, will surely not figure but he is still effective at this level. His header found Stephen Elliott, who headed home. Soon after, George McCartney's cross wormed its way to Carl Robinson who tapped in, before defensive frailties again undid Sunderland.

Those worries will return on a weekly basis in the Premiership. The case against the defence rests.

Goals: Naylor (66) 1-0; Elliott (71) 1-1; Robinson (84) 1-2; Bent (89) 2-2.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Davis; Wilnis, De Vos, Naylor, Unsworth; Miller, Westlake, Horlock (Magilton, 76), Currie (Counago, 82); Bent, Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Richards, Scowcroft.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Ingham; Wright, Breen, Caldwell, McCartney; Lawrence (Thornton, 76), Whitehead, Robinson, Arca; Stewart (Elliott, 69), Brown (Deane, 69) Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Collins.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Ipswich Town Horlock, Wilnis, De Vos, Naylor, Kuqi; Sunderland Robinson, Thornton.

Man of the match: McCartney.

Attendance: 29,230.

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