Four goals at home last week, four goals away this, people have started calling Ricky Sbragia manager-elect of Sunderland. Publicly at least this is not a position Sbragia enjoys, but from being a safe pair of hands three weeks ago in the wake of Roy Keane's departure from Wearside, the 52-year-old Scot is now seen as man with a grip on the job.
But it is not Sbragia's yet – others remain under consideration – and retaining perspective is now among the Sunderland hierarchy's priorities. That is difficult enough in football, but the sort of six-point rush Sunderland are experiencing this morning makes that ever harder.
It may sound churlish, but it has to be said that the first four goals came against a disappearing West Bromwich and that yesterday the crucial second Sunderland goal from Kieran Richardson took a mighty deflection. But for that this could easily have been 1-1 – still a good result.
That Richardson's goal came in the 78th minute also shows that this was a tight match, until then. Three minutes later Hull's Sam Ricketts was dismissed for a second bookable offence in the space of five minutes, and three more elapsed before Kenwyne Jones headed in the visitors' third. Six minutes changed the match.
"Three-one to the referee," sang Hull's unhappy fans at Mike Riley, and Hull City's disappointed manager, Phil Brown, called the dismissal "ridiculous".
Brown was the caretaker managerat Hull before being given the post permanently, and said that this result"doesn't do him [Sbragia] any harm at all" in terms of succeeding Keane.
Sbragia brought his straight bat with him again. "No, not at all," was the Scot's response to questions as to whether this made him a more likely candidate. He said he speaks to the chairman, Niall Quinn, "every day" but added: "I'm not breaking his door down. If it's working, why look tomend it? We've just got to keep itgoing. We can't just have a short, sharp injection."
Asked why Sunderland's players seem to be playing with greater freedom post-Keane, Sbragia said: "We had to get back to being disciplined in the way we play and Kenwyne and Djib [Cissé] is a partnership that's growing."
Not for the first time Sbragia also said he treats the players "like adults – you shouldn't always come down on them." What Keane makes of such comments will be interesting to hear.
Sunderland's free expression could be seen in their opening goal. When Phil Bardsley swept a pass from the right byline across the halfway line to Anton Ferdinand, the ball was moved quickly through Richardson, Andy Reid and onto Danny Collins. The left back was overlapping down the opposite flank to Bardsley.
Collins cut in and slid a neat pass to Steed Malbranque, who had made his way infield and who, from the edge of the 'D', whacked in a delicious right-foot shot. It was some way for Malbranque to register his first goal for the club. The clock said 10 minutes exactly.
Hull's goal was the opposite of Sunderland's. In place of a six-man passing move there was a 50-yard free-kick punt from goalkeeper Boaz Myhill. Kamil Zayatte caused alarm with a flick of the head, Michael Turner then had a shot, which was blocked on the line by Marton Fulop. A brief scramble ensued and at its end Nicky Barmby was there to drill in a low equaliser. It was Barmby's first Premier League goal for five years.
Hull looked set then, but as they faded, Sunderland regrouped after half-time. After 78 minutes Richardson roamed forward, paused and decided to have a go. The shot was flying wide until it clipped Zayatte and deflected past the wrong-footed Myhill. Ricketts then saw red before Malbranque danced around Ricketts' replacement at left-back, Peter Halmosi, and delivered a cross that Jones gleefully headed in. There was still time for Cissé to race away and drill in an injury-time fourth.
Hull's unbeaten run was over; Sunderland's is into a second game, they are out of the relegation zone and next it is Sam Allardyce and Blackburn at the Stadium of Light on Friday.
Referee: Mike Riley
Man of the match: Malbranque
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content