Here’s what the Echo was reporting on Sunderland 10 years ago.
Deano targets Brum win
SUNDERLAND skipper Dean Whitehead hopes to bow out on a high at Birmingham tomorrow before serving a ban that will keep him out of the weekend’s home clash with Championship leaders Derby.
The captain collected his fifth booking of the season in Saturday’s 4-0 crushing of Southend.
That triggers an automatic suspension when the high-flying Rams come to Wearside. But the midfielder is now even more determined to help his troops to a positive result at second-placed Birmingham tomorrow.
Whitehead said: “I’m absolutely gutted that I’ll miss the Derby game. It’s going to be a huge one for us and I wanted to be part of it.
“I was a bit annoyed at the ref. The lad made a bad tackle on Carlos early in the move. I went over and he was saying something to the ref. I just pushed him away to keep him out of trouble and the ref’s booked me for it.
“Life goes on. We have people in our squad who can do the job when I’m out and I’m confident we can get the result we need.
“We still have to go to Birmingham first and try to continue the run we’re on. If selected, I’ll be giving it absolutely everything down there to try to put us in an even better position in the league before the Derby game.”
Whitehead was a powerhouse on Saturday. Starting in his preferred central midfield slot for the first time at home in a number of weeks, he showed the kind of form that promoted Roy Keane to give him the captain’s armband last month.
And he was pleased the team was able to perform so well for the home faithful after most of this season’s best displays had come on the road.
Whitehead said: “We performed well and for an easy win. The last three or four home games have not been too good to watch but we showed on Saturday that we can pass and move and it was a deserved victory for us.”
Dave Connolly’s ninth goal of the season – from Carlos Edward’s cross – got Sunderland away to a dream start after only four minutes before Toby Hysen added a second nine minutes later.
Stern John had been luckless in the first half, hitting the post and having a powerful header saved, but got his rewards after the break with two goals in two minutes.
Whitehead said: “We got off to a flying start again. Carlos is up and down his wing like the road runner at the moment and he put a great ball in for Dave Connolly to put into the back of the net.
“It was one of our better performances. We didn’t give them many chances and we could have ended five or six goals.”
The Wearsiders finally made their move into the top six, and Whitehead added: “It’s nice to be there, but it only counts at the end of the season so I won’t be taking too much notice of the table. The top two is definitely what we’re aiming for.”
ON THE UP!:
In the play-offs ... but don’t stop there!
SUNDERLAND gatecrashed the play-off places for the first time this season, thanks to their biggest win of the campaign.
And there was no doubting Roy Keane’s pride at a job well done as his team confidently dealt with a fixture which was always going to be a potential banana-skin.
“It was one of our best performances of the season,” he said.
“The players adapted to the game very quickly, scored four goals, kept a clean sheet and could have scored a few more, so overall it was a very good afternoon I have to say.”
Far from seeing it as job done though after Sunderland went fifth, Keane sees the hard work as only just beginning in a promotion campaign involving up to 10 clubs which the manager expected to go down to the wire.
He said: “We’ve been playing catch-up all season – right up to this point – but it will be nip and tuck from now, right to the end of the season.
“With this win, we’ve managed to squeeze into the play-offs but we know that we can’t rest on our laurels.
“We work on our recovery over the weekend, then, travel down to Birmingham and get ready for a cracking game.
“At least we’re in the play-offs now, which is a plus for us. We’ve managed to squeeze in there and that’s all credit to the players. All the plaudits have to go to the players and the staff because we knew we would have to go on a real good run if were to have a chance this season.
“But the time to look at the table is at the end of the season.”
There are many things that pleased him about the performance and he worked his way through them in the post-match conference.
There was the fact that he had quality in his two strikers and competition breathing down their neck in the shape of Anthony Stokes.
There was a dominance of his central midfield pairing of Dean Whitehead and Liam Miller.
And he was delighted with the hard-tackling of his back four.
But more than anything there was satisfaction that the ethos of professionalism and desire he’s trying to instil into the squad seems to be genuinely taking root.
He said: “With the group of players I have now, I’m fairly relaxed before the game because I know that the least they’re going to give me is 100 per cent and that’s a great comfort for me. I have to say.
“I’m sure people expected us to win the game because we’re at home and on a good run of form but I only really felt that way myself after the training session the day before.
“I looked at training and stood back and I saw that the players looked really focussed, strong physically and mentally and I felt the same thing at the hotel, the night before the game. It’s a good feeling.
“I know that the players are going to give me 100 per cent and that’s a great tonic for me as a manager. It’s different from the first few months when so much was going on that I didn’t know what to expect.
“But now I’m starting to get the players I want at the club and I’m starting to know I can rely on them.