MARCO Gabbiadini ended the longest barren run of his career to secure three precious points for Sunderland in their fight to survive in Division One.
The former York striker had not netted since November, but his 39th-minute header proved enough to clinch a third successive 1-0 home victory for Denis Smith’s men.
The defeat of Nottingham Forest – who were restricted to just one chance by a resolute Sunderland defence – moved the Rokermen five points clear of the drop zone in a congested bottom half of the table.
Boss Smith was delighted with the effort of Gabbiadini and striking partner Peter Davenport, whose goal drought stretched back almost as far, to early December.
Smith told the Echo: “They both did well, but Dav isn’t getting enough shots at goal and I still think there is more to come from Marco.
“It’s never easy coming back after injury, but they are starting to look like their old selves again, and that has to be good.”
Gabbiadini proved a constant threat to a Forest defence featuring England stars Des Walker and Stuart Pearce, though Geoff Storey, writing in the Echo, said that “his tendency to go it alone can be frustrating”.
Smith handed a debut to £225,000 new boy Brian Mooney, as well as opting for youngster Anthony Smith at left-back ahead of Reuben Agboola in place of the suspended Paul Hardyman.
Both choices justified their selection.
Mooney, snapped up from Preston, showed some nice touches and linked well with Paul Bracewell and Gary Owers in midfield, while Smith settled quickly and played his part in snuffing out Forest’s raids down the right flank, even when lively winger Gary Crosby came on as a second-half sub.
Manager Smith was pleased for debutant Mooney, saying: “He showed good movement and good appreciation of things going on around him.”
The only goal came six minutes before half-time, as Sunderland made the most of their most encouraging performance in several weeks.
A corner was played short to Colin Pascoe, whose cross was knocked to the far post by Kevin Ball for Gabbiadini to beat keeper Mark Crossley with a close-range header.
The Wearsiders should have been ahead before then, though, such was their dominance.
Gabbiadini fired one effort wide before having a header fingertipped away by Crossley.
Sunderland ought to have broken the deadlock on 31 minutes. Davenport got clear but was obviously in two minds whether to shoot or pass to Gabbiadini, and he paid the penalty as the ball ran through to the keeper.
Forest were rattled, and Crossley made an outstanding stop to keep out a close-range Gordon Armstrong effort, but the Rokermen deservedly went ahead a minute later.
In the second half, Forest went close on 48 minutes when Phil Starbuck fired in a powerful, low drive, but Tony Norman made a good reflex save. That was it for the visitors, as far as chances went, but Sunderland had to scrap hard to ensure their victory.
Pascoe shot over the bar, Gabbiadini took a Smith pass in his stride but chose to go it alone rather than feed Mooney, and Davenport fired an effort against Walker after cutting inside on to Gabbiadini’s pass.
Overall, Smith was delighted to get the three points with such an impressive display, and he said: “It’s a great thrill to beat any side that Brian Clough manages – he has been the best manager in the league for the last couple of decades.”