CHRIS Turner produced a magnificent series of saves to ensure a club record haul of six successive league clean sheets – and a memorable double over European Cup holders Aston Villa.
But it was far from a one-man show as veteran striker Frank Worthington crowned a thoroughly entertaining Sunderland display with a tremendous second goal – despite clearly being well short of full fitness.
It was a crucial strike, too, as Villa had gone desperately close to levelling seconds earlier.
Villa, preparing to face Barcelona in the Super Cup, were left dumbfounded by Turner’s excellence, as the former Sheffield Wednesday keeper followed shut-outs against Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Notts County with another clean sheet. He was alert from start to finish behind a solid defence, and made particularly outstanding stops to deny lively Mark Walters and Peter Withe.
Boss Alan Durban enthused: “It is incredible to think that we have equalled the club record when our central defenders against Villa were Ian Atkins, who was playing centre-forward for a Second Division side last season, and Gordon Chisholm, who has played mainly in midfield.
“We needed this win badly – if we had lost we would have been right back in the ruck.
“Now we are able to look at the teams above and look to catch them.”
Villa were bright from the off, despite their troubles on the road all season, with Tony Morley having a fierce effort tipped spectacularly over the bar by Turner. The resulting corner was played to Dennis Mortimer, and Sunderland needed Jimmy Nicholl to block his superb, goalbound 25-yarder.
In response, Worthington let fly from 20 yards and was just wide of Nigel Spink’s post, and Sunderland were soon ahead in bizarre circumstances, with Villa unlucky to concede an own goal.
Debutant Leighton James was fouled by Allan Evans and the Welshman got up to fire in the free-kick, which struck hapless defender Ken McNaught and rebounded past a bewildered Spink.
Sunderland capitalised on their good fortune to take command, with James firing wide from a good position and Worthington then forcing Spink to make a smart stop.
Spink then kept Villa in it right on half-time when he turned away a ferocious strike by Stan Cummins after great work by Iain Munro.
Turner started the second half well, classily palming away a McNaught header from Gordon Cowans’ cross which looked a goal all the way.
Sunderland, though, instantly stormed down the other end to double their lead. Turner’s long kick was nodded down by Colin West and fell nicely for Worthington, who took his time before beating Spink with a measured, low drive.
Turner made another pivotal save, diving bravely to defy Withe, after he looked a certain scorer on the end of Morley’s good work on the left.
But Sunderland kept going for it themselves, Worthington, though clearly struggling now, shooting inches wide, then James fired into the side netting after being set up by Nick Pickering, and sub Ally McCoist’s dipping effort was just over the bar, with Spink beaten.
Durban singled out youngsters Barry Venison, who played in midfield while Munro returned at left-back, and West for their contributions.
He said: “Venison was disappointed about being left out on Friday (before injuries took their toll at training), but he came back and proved his point.
“People will say logically I should have played McCoist ahead of West, but he was responsible for a lot of people playing well.”
Taken from Saturday’s Football Echo
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