Roker on top of the promotion class

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The Independent Online
Sunderland 6 Millwall 0

That hot bed of football passion, the North-east of England, today has three teams in the top four. The only trouble is Sunderland are a League behind.

But for how long? As Peter Reid - like neighbouring managers Kevin Keegan and Bryan Robson a once outstanding player - said after his side humiliated the former leaders Millwall: "We were a different class."

It is an oft-repeated homily this season that the teams at the top of the Endsleigh League are much of a mediocre muchness, and the battered Lions have now slipped back into the nine teams in a chasing pack separated by two points. Yet Sunderland stand three points clear with a game in hand.

To reach the top, Reid has learnt from Newcastle and Middlesbrough. Solid at the back with Richard Ord and the Welsh international Andy Melville, he also has grit in midfield.

This comes in the balding form of Steve Agnew who, with Martin Gray, stifled Millwall's much-vaunted midfield allowing the young talents to create.

These are the floppy-fringed wingers, Michael Gray and Martin Smith, who tear at defences with pace and poise. Smith provided centimetre-perfect passes for three of the six goals.

A notable hat-trick, but the 21-year-old home-bred striker Craig Russell went one better with four goals. This has been Reid's major problem position and he has tried David Kelly, Phil Gray and Lee Howey to little avail.

"Craig's just a quality finisher," said Reid. "But some of the balls that went into the box were excellent quality as well. And he missed the easiest chance which should have finished an exceptional move."

Millwall manager Mick McCarthy flew into a rage and dashed straight off, leaving only Uwe Fuchs to defend his team. "It was too easy for Sunderland to score goals," he said.

Millwall never looked likely to score. They managed just four wild shots, although a goal-line clearance by Ord from Fuchs when the score was still sensible might have made a difference.

With Sunderland planning a pounds 14m stadium, Reid is heading for promotion to the same class as Keegan and Robson.

Goals: Scott (pen 15) 1-0; Russell (32) 2-0; P Gray (51) 3-0; Russell (58) 4-0; Russell (72) 5-0; Russell (90) 6-0.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Kubicki, Scott, Ord, Melville; Agnew, Martin Gray, Michael Gray, Smith; Russell, P Gray. Substitutes not used: Mullin, Howey, Armstrong.

Millwall (4-3-3): Keller; Lavin, Thatcher, Rogan (McRobert, 65), Stevens; Doyle, Savage, Rae; Fuchs, Malkin (Taylor, 71), Van Blerk. Substitute not used: Newman.

Referee: E Lomas (Manchester).

Bookings: Sunderland: Martin Gray. Millwall: Savage, Fuchs.

Man of the match: Russell.

Attendance: 18,951.