Sunderland made to wait for title

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The Independent Online
Sunderland 0 Stoke City 0

Sunderland's promotion party began on Saturday night, but for the moment Wearside awaits the arrival of the First Division title and the trophy held aloft by neighbours Newcastle United and Middlesbrough in the past three years.

One more point from their two remaining games will suffice, and while the celebrations were put on hold after yesterday's goalless draw with a grimly determined Stoke - themselves looking to follow the leaders up via the play-offs - their 17th successive game without defeat created a club record.

"I can't put into words how I feel," said the Sunderland manager, Peter Reid, who took charge of the club 13 months ago when they were sliding into the Second Division.

"I've won a lot in this game, but leading Sunderland to promotion is the best feeling in the world. We would have liked a victory to wrap it all up, but hopefully we'll do that against West Brom next Saturday."

Third-placed Crystal Palace, needing to win at Wolves to maintain an interest in automatic promotion, had been the side expected to slip up and end Sunderland's five-year exile from the top tier. Instead Roker's Premiership ticket was stamped by Derby, whose failure to beat Birmingham City means either Jim Smith's side or Palace - but not both - could mathematically catch Sunderland, with the pair meeting head on at the Baseball Ground next Sunday.

It was fitting that the Stoke manager Lou Macari should find himself a guest at Sunderland's promotion bash, having been partly responsible for their elevation in 1990. Then it was the financial shenanigans at his former club, Swindon, which saw the Wearsiders sneak up a month after the end of a season which saw them beaten in the play-off final after finishing sixth.

That summer, the then-manager Denis Smith was allowed just pounds 500,000 to strengthen a side patently out of its depth. Reid has been promised pounds 10m - admittedly small change by the standards set at St James' Park - but majority shareholder Bob Murray said yesterday: "Peter will be given more money than any manager in the club's history."

He will need it to add a touch of flair to a side which struggled to break down an obdurate Stoke team who epitomised the First Division's dour appearance this season.

After a featureless first half City came close to ending the stalemate in the 51st minute, Graham Potter's shot being tipped on to the Sunderland bar by Alec Chamberlain.

The home side's 17-year-old substitute Michael Bridges, not even born when the North-east's big three were last together in the top flight, in 1977, might have won it in the closing stages but clipped the post after being left with only Mark Prudhoe to beat.

It was an appropriate outcome to the match, in that a rock-solid defence has been at the heart of Sunderland's unexpected success; just 31 goals conceded in 44 games, with an astonishing 25 clean sheets.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Kubicki, Melville, Ord, Scott; Agnew (Aiston, 71), Ball, Bracewell, M Gray; Howey, Russell (Bridges, 60; Hall, 80).

Stoke City (4-4-2): Prudhoe; Clarkson, Sigurdsson, Whittle, Sandford; Devlin, Wallace, Gleghorn, Potter (Dreyer, 83); Sheron (Carruthers, 89), Sturridge. Substitute not used: Macari.

Referee: G Singh (Wolverhampton).

Booking: Stoke: Sigurdsson.

Man of the match: Bracewell.

Attendance: 21,276.