Russell brings Derby to heel

Sunderland 3 Russell 8, 67, Agnew 32 Derby Co 0 Attendance: 21 ,644
Click to follow
The Independent Online
SUNDERLAND supporters have started singing that they are daydream believers. After comprehensively halting the League leaders' 20-game unbeaten run, those day-dreams are in danger of coming true.

Unlike last week's battle between the Premiership's top two, the home side capped a compelling first-half performance with two goals. Their hugely promising 19-year-old goalkeeper Shay Given, on loan from Blackburn, kept his seventh consecutive clean sheet, leaving Sunderland two games in hand and four points behind.

These are the two most complete teams in the League, and with the arrival in midweek of Paul Stewart - once a pounds 2.3m player - on a free transfer, Sunderland now have a focal point to their attack. In the eighth minute, the former Spurs and Liverpool man touched on Given's route-one clearance to Steve Agnew whose cross allowed Craig Russell to score his 10th of the season.

The goal quelled Derby's initial fury and Sunderland patiently waited for the second. Russell should have had it in the 20th minute and it duly arrived in the 32nd. It was the simplest pattern - Paul Bracewell down the line, Martin Scott's square cross - and the simplest tap-in for Agnew.

Stewart, though, could have won the match singlehandedly rather than create a sound platform. Clearly lacking match practice after his long lay-off, he shot four times wildly into the crowd - Sunderland's biggest in the League for three years - and twice was caught woefully offside.

After his departure around the hour, Sunderland were not the same, but Russell, the local lad making very good, did score his second in the 68th minute. Richard Ord won Bracewell's corner in the air and the diminutive striker swivelled and drove home.

In reply the Rams' rarely raided. Marco Gabbiadini only had the bruises from a forthright Kevin Ball tackle to show for his return to Roker Park, and not even a desperate half-time double substitution by Jim Smith could break Sunderland's hold on midfield. Indeed, it was not until seven minutes from time that Given made his first proper save.

Despite the daydreams, Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, does not have his head in the clouds. "This League's so much up and down and it's consistent football that keeps you on top," he said. "But we have now won five in a row."