Derby County fans are growing to detest this stadium. Just when it appeared Paul Jewell's arrival this week as manager had produced a well-deserved, hard-fought point, Anthony Stokes, a late Sunderland substitute, delivered a dagger blow from all of a yard to condemn Derby yet again. It was a reminder that in February here, in the midst of a promotion scrap, Derby had lost three minutes into injury time to Liam Miller's header.
Miller, another late Sunderland substitute yesterday, provided the cross from which Kenwyne Jones forced Stephen Bywater into a sprawling save. Stokes pounced first but hit the bar, then waited for the ball to drop to hook it in over his shoulder. It was the 19-year-old's first Premier League goal.
The Stadium of Light erupted,just as it had nine months ago. This felt every bit as vital, particularly after last week's morale-crushing 7-1 defeat at Everton. Dwight Yorke, Dickson Etuhu and, most surprisingly, the 9 million keeper, Craig Gordon, paid the price for that thumping, but while Sunderland were not pretty here and barely deserved to win, Roy Keane's selection was ultimately justified. Keane described dropping Gordon as "a call I had to make, he's been under a lot of pressure recently", and saw the 33-year-old stand-in Darren Ward help deliver a first clean sheet since the season's opening day.
Keane identified Ward's 40th-minute save from Kenny Miller Ward tipped the Scot's volley on to the post as one of a patchy game's turning points, as did a disappointed Jewell.
"I thought we deserved a point," said Derby's new manager. "It wasn't a great game but in the first half we passed the ball well. We lacked a cutting edge, the 'goals for' columnwill tell you that. But we were comfortable. We've got to get a win from somewhere and it's Manchester United next week. But we're not adrift."
Derby still have a mere five goals this season, and a combination of Ward's fingertips and Dean Whitehead's boot denied them a first one away from Pride Park. In a frantic end to the first half, Steve Howard's goalbound low shot was cleared by Whitehead a few minutes after Ward's save from Miller.
At the other end, Jones also hit the woodwork in the moments before the interval, pouncing on a spill from Bywater. Somehow, from the edge of the six-yard box, Jones hit the post. Either side of that flurry however, composed football was overwhelmed by some fretful stuff. A gale did nothelp but basic errors, many from Sunderland players, did not encourage the large crowd.
Derby had their captain, Matt Oakley, knitting things together in midfield and Grant Leadbitter did his best for the home team. But much of either side's pressure was aided by opposition faults, and Sunderland's inability to clear the ball led to another burst of Derby possession and threat at the beginning of the second half. Eventually there was a scrappy hoof away and Sunderland settled.
They had a good 15 minutes then but their best effort, a shot from Whitehead that looked to be beating Bywater, hit Michael Chopra. The 23-year-old was a substitute, coming on for Andy Cole, who was given a home debut. But Chopra did not have the impact of Keane's other introductions, Miller and Stokes.
One long week after Everton, when Keane had locked himself away in his house, Sunderland had stabilised.
"Delighted, happy, there's a good chance I'll be leaving my house tomorrow," Keane said.Reuse content