SAFC 10 YEARS AGO: Connolly’s the best, Simpson positive

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Here’s what the Echo was reporting on Sunderland 10 years ago.

DAVID’S SIMPLY THE BEST

Whitehead hails hitman Connolly

DEAN WHITEHEAD says Sunderland’s top marksman, David Connolly is the best striker in the Championship and he wouldn’t sway him for any other forward in the division.

Connolly, signed from Wigan for an initial £1.4million in August, took his time to get going and scored only one goal in the first dozen games he was involved in for the Wearsiders.

But he has been in inspired form in the last few months, scoring seven goals in his last 11 appearances and being nominated for Championship Player of the Month in January.

He still lags behind the division’s top scorers, the likes of Cardiff City’s Michael Chopra (18 goals) and Norwich’s Robbie Earnshaw (17).

But his skipper insists the Irishman is the better player – a warning to Southend, who visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Midfielder Whitehead said: “David is the best striker in the division in my opinion and I think everyone is seeing just what he’s capable of at the moment.

“He’s been on fire in the last few months and you feel he’s always likely to get you a goal because he’s always busy and on the move.

“His goals have been important to us during the good run we have put together.

“But it’s not just his goals which have benefited the team, it’s also the fact that his workrate is so high.

“He gets through loads of work in a game and is always looking to give you options.

“His flicks and touches and his cleverness helps out his team mates as well and it’s no coincidence that his good form has coincided with out good run.”

While Connolly is an experienced marksman, his countryman, 18-year-old Anthony Stokes, is just starting out in the game.

But he got on the scoresheet along with Connolly in the 2-0 win over Plymouth Argyle at the weekend.

And Whitehead said he’s delighted the teenager is off the mark.

He said: “It was great to see Anthony get on the scoresheet – that will do him the world of good.

“He’s a great prospect, but I think strikers strive on goals and he’ll be happy just to get his first out of the way.

“David and Anthony both look as though they have goals in them at the moment but there’s plenty of other players in the side who can find the back of the net.

“And that’s great for us going into what is a very important part of the season.

“To continue climbing the table you need to be winning games and that means scoring goals which, thankfully for us, doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem at the moment.”

SIMPSON: WE HAVE RIVALS WORRIED NOW

SUNDERLAND slipped six points off an automatic promotion spot last night – but on-loan defender Danny Simpson is not worried.

Simpson believes Sunderland have their Championship promotion rivals fearing the worst after the Black Cats’ impressive charge up the table – unbeaten in the league in 2007.

West Brom regained second place with last night’s hard-earned 2-1 win at eighth-placed Colchester, and are six points ahead of Sunderland, albeit having played a game more.

But Simpson is relishing the Wearsiders’ promotion push and knows that there are many twists and turns to come in what promises to be a fascinating run-in. The 20-year-old full back, set for his home debut when Southend visit on Saturday said: “We have been patient – creeping up the table slowly and grinding out results.

“Teams have got to look out for us now because we’re not messing about – we’re looking to keep moving up that table and take their places and we feel confident we can do it.

“This is a Premiership club, it has the potential to be up there in the Premiership. With the facilities, the fanbase and the people we have here, the club should be in the Premiership. I hope we will do that soon.”

Southend’s visit to Wearside is the prelude to three of the most testing games all season – matches away to Birmingham and West Brom, sandwiching a home date with leaders Derby, which could prove pivotal to the Black Cats’ destiny.

Simpson added: “All the games will be massive ones for the rest of the season. We have to perform as well as we can and keep grinding out results.

“When you are a (Manchester) United player you have to learn to go on to the pitch expecting to win every game so I’m used to that pressure. This is a big club and the supporters are demanding. They expect us to win every game and that’s fair enough.