Black Cats' late show sees off 10-man Stoke

Sunderland 2 Stoke City 0
Click to follow

To deduce something definitive from a match it took Sunderland 78 minutes to wrestle their way, and 90 minutes to win, would be premature. However, as the Wearsiders departed into the snow on Saturday night, they could reflect that three games in 12 days had brought seven points, a yield that should help Sunderland survive a second Premier League season. What happens next, though, is another matter.

Trips to Arsenal and Liverpool should narrow the focus and that is a reason why Sunderland cannot settle. Their run-in is hard.

But this is also big-picture time at a club with quiet but serious ambition. Hence on page 15 of Saturday's programme, on a photograph of a half-empty Stadium of Light, was a caption reading: "On your way home tonight have a think about the club's future."

These were chairman Niall Quinn's words. On Friday, Sunderland announced that season ticket prices are to be cut and that under-16s accompanied by an adult can buy one for £19 next season – £1 per game. Quinn's opinion is: "We have reached a critical point in our lifespan as custodians."

Quinn says this is "no exaggeration" but, to kick on, the ownership wants to see fervour.

However, having watched 11 league defeats and lost manager Roy Keane in the midst of an economic downturn, the public is restrained. Against Fulham and Stoke they have seen Sunderland win with average displays. They played well for the first-half at Newcastle in between. It is satisfactory more than pulsating.

There is due respect that Kenwyne Jones has been retained – Jones's breakthrough header was his ninth goal since November – but there is simultaneous recognition that Jones and Djibril Cissé fail as a partnership. Cissé has 10 goals so far but too often Sunderland's flow stops when the Frenchman intervenes.

David Healy came on for Cissé for three minutes and scored, and might have more to offer than the man he replaced.

Otherwise, the team feels stronger than this time last season and is seven points better off.

"We're becoming difficult to beat," said manager Ricky Sbragia. Of the five league visitors since Sbragia took over, only Aston Villa have scored here. But Blackburn's Jason Roberts, Fulham's Simon Davies and Stoke's Henri Camara each missed sitters, so there can be no complacency.

Camara hit the bar from four yards on a day when little went right for Stoke. Three players were lost to injury in the first 30 minutes, then Matty Etherington was dismissed by erratic referee Rob Styles.

So a tenth away defeat for Stoke; but home is where their heart is and Portsmouth, Bolton and Middlesbrough are the next three at the Britannia.

Goals: Jones 78 (1-0); Healy 90 (2-0).

Sunderland (4-4-2): Fulop; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney; Malbranque (Edwards 70), Whitehead, Richardson, Reid (Murphy 82); Jones, Cissé (Healy 87). Substitutes not used: Gordon (gk), Ben-Haim, Davenport, Leadbitter.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson (Pugh 18), Shawcross (Sonko 26), Faye, Kelly; Cresswell, Whelan, Diao, Etherington; Fuller (Camara 30), Beattie. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Olofinjana, Lawrence, Kitson.

Bookings: Sunderland Collins, Bardsley; Stoke City Diao,

Sent off: Stoke City Etherington.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Attendance: 38,350.

Man of the match: Richardson.