Taylor steps out of the shadow of O'Neill as Foxes go top

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The last few steps of the ascent have not been pretty, but for two weeks at least Leicester are top of the league for the first time since the days when headlines were full of Great Train Robbers and John Profumo.

The last few steps of the ascent have not been pretty, but for two weeks at least Leicester are top of the league for the first time since the days when headlines were full of Great Train Robbers and John Profumo.

The last time they were in this position was in August 1963 following a 7-2 rout of Arsenal; 37 years on and they have reached the summit of English football having scored the same number of goals in eight games.

Nevertheless, that Leicester side was fashioned around a great goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, and, several footballing generations on, Tim Flowers is fulfilling a similar role.

It was appropriate that when an uninspired game was done, Flowers should trot over to a disabled Leicester fan and make a present of his gloves. He had conceded just one game in open play all season and his one-handed save from Julio Arca's header in the second half was, said Peter Reid, "the decisive moment of the afternoon".

If goalkeepers are to be selected on form, then Flowers is desperately unlucky not to have added to his 11 England caps in a season when he cannot have kept better.

However, Peter Taylor, who as a former Tottenham man was cheering on Arsenal for the first time in his life, knows that, if his club's challenge is to be sustained, Leicester will have to start scoring sooner rather than later.

When these two teams last met, Sunderland were demolished by a hat-trick by Stan Collymore, making what was to prove an illusory debut. Leicester created just two chances of note yesterday, a run through the middle by Ade Akinbiyi, which ended with the striker pulling his shot wide, and a header from Richard Cresswell, making his full debut, which Thomas Sorensen saved with supreme confidence.

It was not a match to linger in the mind; the day had begun with David Bellamy planting a tree to commemorate the opening of Sunderland's Academy, and sometimes it seemed that watching it grow would provide more excitement.

However, Leicester would have been pleased with the outcome. Three days after being pulled apart by Red Star Belgrade, they would not have looked forward to facing another side in red-and-white in an atmosphere as intimidating as they encountered in Vienna. "The boys call themselves the grinders because they fancy themselves to grind out a result against anyone," said Taylor. Yesterday proved their point.

Sunderland have a fearsome record at the Stadium of Light but their tactics of hitting the ball long for Niall Quinn fizzled out in the face of some marvellous central defending from Matt Elliott. He had gone into the game nursing a heavy cold but Taylor said he did not accept sicknotes from men who stand 6ft 2in tall.

Too often, Sunderland's crosses were one-dimensional, although their manager pointed out that Quinn received too little protection from the referee on a day when a cross-border dispute with the Northern Ireland defender Gerry Taggart led to both men grabbing each other by the shirt, an incident which the FA may take further.

But this was an afternoon for Taylor, a man still in Martin O'Neill's shadow but who yesterday achieved something his predecessor never did. "I don't know for how long," he laughed. "The next game's against Manchester United."

Sunderland: (4-4-2) Sorensen; Makin, Craddock, Thome, Gray; Kilbane, Hutchison, Willliams, Arca (Oster, 70); Quinn, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Thirlwell, Rae, Reddy, Macho (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Flowers, Rowett, Elliott, Taggart; Impey, Lennon, Eadie (Guppy, 90), Savage, Davidson; Cresswell (Oakes, 78), Akinbiyi (Benjamin, 74). Substitutes not used: Gilchrist, Royce (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley). Bookings: Sunderland: Quinn, Thome. Leicester: Taggart.

Man of the match: Elliott.

Attendance: 45,338.

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