Leeds fall to Phillips' predatory instincts

Sunderland 2 Leeds United 0
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The Independent Football

Eleven years ago this week, Peter Reid took charge of his first game as a manager, stepping into the space in the Maine Road dug-out vacated by his mentor Howard Kendall, but few victories he has overseen since would have given him the satisfaction of this one.

It was not just because it ended Leeds' unbeaten Premiership record; Sunderland had last won at the Stadium of Light more than two months ago and in that time their League position and Reid's reputation on Wearside have plummeted. "All managers feel pressure," he said. "But it's not real pressure, when you consider there are that many out of work."

Yet, this was hardly the kind of match Sunderland would have relished. The popular memory of this fixture may be that of Bob Stokoe, wearing a pork-pie hat, embracing Jim Montgomery after one of the most remarkable FA Cup finals the game has known but the recent history of Leeds versus Sunderland has been one of unbroken Yorkshire dominance ­ since 1988 Leeds had won the last 11 League encounters.

Yesterday they were undone by the virtues that have been the key to Reid's successes since bringing Sunderland back to the Premiership two years ago; the predatory instincts of Kevin Phillips, the goalkeeping excellence of Thomas Sorensen and his eye for a bargain.

For all the impact his big-money summer signings, Lilian Laslandes and Nicolas Medina, have had thus far, the £7m fees might just as well have been tossed off Roker Pier, while Phillips, Sorensen, McCann, Williams and McAteer, who cost £2.6m between them, drove Sunderland on to easily their most impressive display of the season.

McAteer, who had come to Wearside after mixing playing for the Republic of Ireland and turning out for Blackburn reserves, was one of four who had experienced the emotionally-draining play-off in Tehran. He had not enjoyed the trip to Iran, but it says something for a footballer's powers of recovery that he and Robbie Keane were to have the most pivotal impact on the game.

McAteer's shot, driven into a crowded area, was palmed away by Nigel Martyn into the path of Julio Arca. At Leicester a fortnight before, he had missed a similar chance and Sunderland had lost embarrassingly. Yesterday he scored.

David O'Leary thought his keeper might have done better, but faced with a move that has become honed over many years at Sunderland's training ground ­ the long ball to Niall Quinn, chested down for Kevin Phillips ­ Martyn was rendered helpless by an acutely accurate shot.

O'Leary reacted by pointing out that in the absence of Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell, Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, his resources were not strong enough to cope with what he called "a good scrap of an English game", adding: "I have heard so many local experts proclaim what a good squad we have. We are getting there but we have not got the squad to compete with Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United."

It was an assessment Reid agreed with; pointing out that Arsenal and United, the previous two visitors to Wearside, had boasted far stronger benches.

However, had Keane been awarded a penalty which both managers thought he deserved after being brought down by Bernt Haas, Leeds might have maintained their unbeaten record. Instead, Keane found himself booked for diving.

Nevertheless, in each half he was presented with an outstanding scoring opportunity; sent through by a beautifully-weighted pass from David Batty in the 21st minute, and then reacting splendidly to a ball which flashed across the Sunderland goalmouth. Each time, Sorensen, who was later to be awarded the title of North-East footballer of the year, was his equal.

Goals: Arca (47) 1-0. Phillips (55) 2-0.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen 8; Haas 6, Thome 5, Williams 6, Gray 5; McAteer 8 (McCartney, 87), Thirlwell 6, McCann 7, Arca 6; Quinn 6 (Laslandes, 69 4), Phillips 6. Substitutes not used: Butler, Schwarz, Macho (gk).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 4; Mills 5, Ferdinand 7, Matteo 5, Harte 5; Bakke 5, Dacourt 7, Batty 6, Johnson 5; Smith 6, Keane 6. Substitutes not used: Kelly, McPhail, Duberry, Wilcox, Robinson (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Tring) 3.

Bookings: Sunderland: Quinn. Leeds: Mills, Keane, Smith.

Man of the match: McAteer.

Attendance: 48,005.

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