GRAHAM Kavanagh arrived at the Stadium of Light plotting Sunderland’s downfall, but the ex-Black Cats midfielder left Wearside singing their praises.
In his playing days, the 40-year-old Carlisle boss was part of Roy Keane’s Championship-winning side of 2007 which ushered in the current era of Premier League football at the Stadium of Light.
And the Dubliner, who was warmly welcomed by the home crowd on his return yesterday, has no desire to see the club slip back to the lower tiers of the English game.
While he was primarily concerned about how Carlisle performed against Premier League opposition, he saw enough from the Black Cats to suggest no-one should give up the ghost on their top-flight status just yet.
“It was great to receive a good reception from Sunderland fans and I hope that they do well,” he said.
“Sunderland fans across the board are top drawer – they are good football people who support their club and only want success for it.
“I’d love to see them reach the final in the Capital One Cup because they haven’t won a cup since 1973 and, for a club this size, that’s a long time.”
He added: “From a Carlisle point of view, we’re disappointed with a couple of things in the match, but I don’t want to take too much away from Sunderland.
“They scored three goals against us and worked very hard for their manager.
“All credit to them, they played extremely well.
“They are in a difficult position at the moment in the league, but they showed signs against us that they have the will and the ability to get out of it.”
Kavanagh felt that a 3-1 scoreline was a little harsh on his side and annoyed that Sunderland’s crucial second goal – Sean O’Hanlon’s own goal early in the second half – was allowed to stand, but he was satisfied that his players had given a decent account of themselves.
“I was very proud, very proud,” he reflected. “Disappointed with the result, obviously, but the way we played, the intelligence we showed, I thought we were excellent.
“In the first half, I thought we created the better chances but just couldn’t get the ball over the line.
“I was disappointed with the referee’s performance because I thought there was a foul involved in Sunderland’s second goal and obviously that would have changed things a lot had we been awarded a free-kick, rather than Sunderland getting ahead for the second time in the game.
“But I’m pleased for our fans, though, because I think we were able to give Sunderland a really good game of football.
“There was disappointment in the dressing room afterwards, but also I think satisfaction that we’d given it a go and that our fans could go home with their heads held high.”