JOE Hinnigan maintained his incredible scoring streak on a day to remember for the Sunderland left-back.
Fresh from netting against Aston Villa and bagging the winner in a first away success of the First Division season at Crystal Palace, the former Wigan man came up trumps again with a memorable double as Ken Knighton’s men eased their relegation fears with a priceless 3-0 home success against fellow strugglers Coventry.
Victory was a massive boost to manager Knighton, amid speculation over his future, with John Barnwell hotly tipped to replace him in the Roker hot seat, less than a year after promotion.
The furious manager, six points clear of the drop zone in the days of two points for a win, fumed: “I find it incredible that other names are continually linked with the manager’s position with this club.
“For 18 months, Frank Clark and myself have worked diligently for the good of Sunderland. We are both perfectly happy here. But it intrigues me that there is so much speculation about my job when there are so many teams below us in the league table.
“Other clubs would be delighted to be in the same position as us. The structure of the club is in a healthier position than when I came here as coach three years ago.”
It was Hinnigan’s day, though, as his double took his tally to four goals in three games.
He made the breakthrough after just six minutes, following Kevin Arnott’s corner. Tom Ritchie and John Cooke both helped the ball on and Hinnigan slammed a right-foot drive into the roof of Les Sealey’s net.
Ritchie then had a goal disallowed for a clear foul on Sealey soon after.
Sunderland’s Barry Siddall, though, was the busier of the two keepers for much of the match, making important saves to deny Gerry Daly and Garry Thompson before Stan Cummins marked his 100th league appearance by doubling the lead on 52 minutes.
Mick Buckley was floored inside the box by full-back Danny Thomas, and Cummins stepped up to give Sealey no chance, placing his shot high to the keeper’s right.
Sealey had to save well to defy Gordon Chisholm, before Hinnigan almost scored at the other end, with a horrible, sliced clearance was headed for the top corner of his own net until Siddall produced a miraculous save.
Arnott went close to a third home goal, with Brian Roberts appearing to handle as he blocked it behind, but the penalty appeals were waved away.
Sunderland, though, made it three on 86 minutes when Arnott’s corner was flicked on by Ritchie and Hinnigan left Sealey helpless with a sweetly-struck volley any striker would have been proud of.
Chisholm kept up the goal hunt late on, with a rasping 30-yarder turned round the post by Sealey.
Assistant manager Frank Clark acknowledged the importance of Siddall’s convincing performance in goal, behind a hard-working back four.
He told the Echo: “The back five did a magnificent job. We didn’t start off too well and really only put it together in the last 25 minutes or so.
“Our attitude and effort, however, was top-class. The second goal was the important one as it gave us the confidence to play it around.
“We possibly should have scored a few more goals, but it is always pleasing when you are creating chances.”