Sunderland 1 Crystal Palace 0
The first real signs that Sunderland, too, can play their part in the revival being staged by Newcastle and Middlesbrough in the North-east came yesterday on a damp and miserable afternoon at Roker Park. With a victory over Crystal Palace that enabled them to complete a League double over the south London club, Sunderland moved up six places to join the First Division front runners.
Even if they did not always look convincing, especially when Palace staged a belated second-half comeback that on earlier evidence had looked beyond them, Sunderland possessed just enough resolution in defence to carry them through.
For a side searching for a three-goal win that would have sent them to the top, Sunderland must have dampened their early fire far too easily for the liking of their manager, Peter Reid.
It took them until the 39th minute to make their pressure count and then it was from the penalty spot, although to be fair to Sunderland, the referee, Mike Riley, could have pointed to the spot on three previous occasions. Not surprisingly, for a team which had squandered two penalties on their visit to Selhurst Park two months ago, Sunderland did not protest too vigorously for any of them.
Their first claim came in the 13th minute when Jamie Vincent upended David Kelly, who was tearing along the byline. As the ball ran loose, Gareth Davies appeared to take umbrage at Lee Howey's attempt to make capital of the incident and was lucky not to have his name taken for grabbing the Sunderland forward around the neck.
Following further dubious challenges by Ray Houghton on Martin Smith, and Dean Gordon on Howey, which merely led to Mr Riley waving play on, he, at last, satisfied the demands of the raucous Fulwell End. Smith's cross shot gained a deflection which would have left Kelly with a gaping goal to aim at had he not gone down in a tangle with Andy Roberts. It looked the least valid of Sunderland's appeals but a penalty it was and Martin Scott duly obliged, beating Nigel Martyn's dive.
Palace, fielding a flexible five-man rearguard, were creating very little. Gareth Taylor had a low drive saved by Alec Chamberlain, who was then rescued by Richard Ord's magnificent tackle after Dougie Freedman had latched on to one of many boots out of defence from Gordon. Palace could only improve and, after Freedman had failed with a header, they brought on Leon McKenzie and Jeroen Boere to add to their attacking options. Both substitutes came agonisingly close: McKenzie after bursting through and Boere with almost his side's final effort that just cleared the bar.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Kubicki, Melville, Ord, Scott; M Gray, Ball, Agnew, Smith (Atkinson, 46); Howey (P Gray, 65), Kelly. Substitute not used: Holloway.
Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Martyn; Edworthy, Roberts, Davies, Gordon, Vincent (McKenzie, 69); Hopkin, Houghton, Pitcher; Freedman (Boere, 79), Taylor. Substitute not used: Sparrow.
Bookings: Sunderland: Agnew (46); Palace: Davies (36), Boere (89).
Man of the match: Ord.
Referee: M Riley (Leeds).