Here’s what the Echo was reporting on Sunderland 10 years ago.
Connolly gets a lift from his Plymouth goal
BATTLE-SCARRED David Connolly wore a brave smile after his eighth goal of the season helped Sunderland close in on the Championship’s top two on Saturday.
The Black Cats’ striker made his return from a serious face injury and quickly collected a painful boot in the mouth at Home Park.
Sunderland fans and staff held their breath fearing more problems from the wound Connolly suffered in training the week before last.
But he was able to continue after treatment and grinned through the pain as another crucial three points were bagged from a 2-0 victory.
Connolly said: “I couldn’t believe it really. It’s been a tough few days, but we got the three points.
“I was hoping it wasn’t the same kick I’d got the previous week or I might have to stay off, but thankfully it wasn’t and I was able to stay on and score.
“I was a bit wary of it after the original injury. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t, particularly after getting the knock in the first half but you just get on with these things.
“My wife won’t be pleased when I come home again with a face like this.
“It was nice to go straight back into the side and it was nice to justify that with a goal.
“It was a good through-ball from Stern John and a big three points because it was always going to be a really difficult game.”
Connolly stretched Sunderland’s lead after 71 minutes, two minutes after sub Anthony Stokes broke the deadlock.
The former Wigan forward said: “We’ve scored quite a lot of goals in the second half and the latter stages of games.
“The manager’s enforced on us that we have to be patient. It takes 90 minutes to win a game.
“In the end, I think we deserved it against a very good Plymouth team.
“The first goal was very important. It was a really good finish from Stokesy.”
Connolly had the ball in the net again six minutes after his goal, only to be denied by an offside flag.
He said: “To be honest, I thought the linesman definitely got some decisions wrong. My ‘goal’ was definitely a goal. I had that confirmed by the video guys.
“But I should have had more goals due to better finishing, so I can’t blame the linesman for that.
“In the end, it probably would have been a bit unfair on Plymouth. I think we probably deserved 2-0 after a very tight hour.”
Connolly believes Sunderland’s fitness has been a key factor in their revival, and his own scoring form.
He added: “The lads are very fit. Carlos Edwards on the right was superb, he’s got so much energy. Dean Whitehead’s the same.
“With Toby Hysen on the left we had a lot of pace and penetration on the flanks as we proved.
“The gaffer wants a team in his mould. We’ve got all the stats for how far we run and the fitness and stuff.
“I think my own run of goals is down to fitness. From a disjointed season last year this season, I’m playing regularly and I’m in a really good team.
“In a team like this, you just want to play.
“We are creating chances, I’m scoring but you wouldn’t get the goals without the great play that builds up to it.”
STOKES CAPS GREAT WEEK
Goal joy for teenage striker
ANTHONY STOKES aims to build on “the best week of my career.”
The striker followed up his midweek Republic of Ireland debut with his first Sunderland goal in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Plymouth.
The triumph was not quite enough to take the Black Cats into the play-off slots – but they are kept outside only by virtue of the fact that they lost to sixth-placed Cardiff earlier in the season.
And an automatic promotion berth is now only three points out of grasp.
Stokes powered home the all-important opener at Home park on Saturday before David Connolly, back from a horrendous facial injury, sealed it with his eighth of the campaign.
Eighteen-year-old Stokes said: “This has been the best week of my career. Playing for my country was my life’s ambition and to then get my first goal for Sunderland is really pleasing.
“I want to make myself a regular for Ireland, but I can’t get too far ahead of myself because I’m still young and I’m still learning.
“I have had two or three chances to score in my previous games since coming to Sunderland and it didn’t quite happen for me.
“The first goal was going to be important on Saturday and the most important thing is that we got the three points.”
It was an even encounter before Stoke’s 2-yard drive lifted Sunderland into a higher gear.
They are now level with sixth placed Cardiff on points, goal difference and, incredibly, goals scored. The Welsh side’s 2-1 win at the Stadium of Light in October is what puts them above Roy Keane’s men.
West Brom’s home draw with Southampton took them second, only three points ahead of Sunderland.
Stokes said: “The position is good but we’re not going to start promising that we’ll do this or that. We have been coming up gradually, by working hard, and we have to keep our heads down and take it step by step.”
Southend – who climbed off the bottom of the Championship with Friday’s 5-0 win over QPR – visit the Stadium of Light next weekend and then Keane’s men face promotion rivals Birmingham, Derby and West Brom.
Stokes added: “I know we’ve got teams above us to play shortly, but we can’t think about that yet.
“Our most important game is Southend at the weekend and we have to try to win that one first of all.
“They had a great win last week and turned Birmingham over not so long ago so we need to be on top of our game.”