SUNDERLAND 10 YEARS AGO: Now for top spot, Stern hails the fight for places

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

NOW FOR TOP SPOT!:

Super Cats just a point behind after thrilling win

SUNDERLAND took a massive stride towards automatic promotion this afternoon with a thrilling victory over Mick McCarthy’s Wolves.

 Goals from Daryl Murphy in the first half and Ross Wallace in the second extended Sunderland’s unbeaten run to 15 games in a row – and secured second place in the Championship table, just a point behind leaders Derby.

 But it was no stroll in the park for Roy Keane’s Black Cats as Wolves fought all the way to the final whistle.

 Murphy’s goal came on the quarter hour and was a wonderfully skilful effort, the striker lifting the ball over his defender, chesting the ball down and stabbing it home from a narrow angle left of goal.

 Sunderland had more chances to extend their lead before the break, the closest of which saw Stern John guide a ball into the post and along the line into the gloves of Matt Murray just before the break.

 The Wearsiders struck again in the 63rd minute when Murphy turned provider from the right of goal and found the unmarked Ross Wallace at the far post, the Scot heading down and in from close range for his second goal in two games.

 But Wolves hit back almost immediately through striker Andy Koegh, who nodded home a left wing cross in the 65th minute.

 Sunderland’s nerves could be felt on the pitch and on the terraces in the dying stages, but they held out to gain a victory which puts them back in the top two again and looking evermore purposeful in the promotion race.

 Rivals Birmingham dominated but crashed 1-0 to Burnley. They are two points behind Sunderland, but have a game in hand.

COMPETITION’S KEY TO OUR SUCCESS:

Stern hails the fight for places

STERN John knows first-hand that no-one is guaranteed a place in Sunderland’s starting line-up.

 But he says the competition for places in the side is the perfect distraction from the pressures building up at other clubs in the Championship promotion race.

 January signing John has scored four goals in eight starts for Sunderland, but his demotion to the substitutes’ bench against Hull City and Cardiff City shows just how intense the fight for a first-team start has become on Wearside under Roy Keane.

 The 30-year-old striker is relaxed about the situation though, saying: “It is as it should be.

 “All successful clubs need competition for players and we certainly have that here.

 “But we also have a fantastic togetherness in the team – something I’ve rarely experienced at other clubs – and that means that if you don’t get in the starting 11, you still want the players that do start, to do well.

 “And with players coming back from injury, the competition is going to get more intense.

 “But that’s not a bad thing because it means everyone here is focused on getting into the team and knowing they have to do well.

 “They’re not going into games confident of their place and able to relax and then start worrying about how our rivals might be doing,”

 John has made a steady start to his Sunderland career since joining from Coventry, but he believes he has much more to offer.

 He said: “I was glad to get a couple of goals in my third game for the club, because, as a striker, you are judged on your goals and the sooner you get off the mark the better.

 “But as I’m settling in more and more, I’m feeling more focused on my football and feeling sharper.

 “That’s a good thing because I would like to play every game and really be part of things.

 “As long as the team is winning though and we are going to the right places, that’s good enough for me. I just want to do my bit to help – whether it’s from the substitutes’ bench or from the stand.”