Sunderland 3 Birmingham City 1
Sunderland 3 Birmingham City 1 KEVIN PHILLIPS' record breaking goal tally during six years on Wearside left an imprint on the minds of Sunderland's supporters and they have also had a delayed reaction on the career of Darren Bent. After Phillips was given a perfect send-off by the same fans who remember him scoring 130 times in 235 appearances, Bent revealed the Niall Quinn masterstroke that left the £10m man desperate to succeed in the North-East. He has not made a bad start. Two goals inside the first 11 minutes against Birmingham City have taken Bent beyond the 20 mark, the first Sunderland player to do so since Phillips a decade ago. Fitting, then, that the club's post-war record goalscorer was on hand to witness the new kid on the block pass that marker before being given a rousing reception by those who still adore him. Sunderland fans will never forget Phillips' predatory instincts, but neither will Bent after he was inspired to become the latest Stadium of Light hero after watching a compilation of Super Kev's goals in a red and white shirt last August. I have always known what a huge hero Kevin Phillips was to this crowd, said Bent, who is enjoying the most productive season of his career. I knew that before I even signed. When I was a kid I remember him scoring all these goals for Sunderland. He did such a lot for this football club. The ovation he got was enough to make the hairs on your neck stand up. Before I signed Niall Quinn gave me a DVD of Kevin and all his goals here and he said to me, this is what you have got to emulate'. I thought to myself ooh, OK not much pressure there then.' I watched the DVD a few times as I had six or seven days up here sitting at the training ground doing nothing. I couldn't join in with the rest as I had not officially signed so I sat and watched the DVDs, saw Kevin in action and got a feel for what it meant to be a Sunderland striker, and how special they are for the fans here. Bent still has nine goals to go before he matches Phillips' 30- goal return from his first season in the Premier League ten years ago. With eight matches remaining, he could come close. His form this season, scoring 13 in his last 19 matches and five in his last three, has caught the eye of Fabio Capello in World Cup year. What matters most to Sunderland is that his goals look to have kept them up. Bent was never outstanding against Birmingham. He rarely is. His phenomenal work-rate, however, creates the space for scoring opportunities. There was a slice of fortune about his first. Stephen Carr, the former Newcastle full-back, blocked Benjani's shot from 12 yards and Bent was on hand, unmarked, to stroke low into the bottom left corner of goalkeeper Joe Hart. Six minutes later he was picked out by Steed Malbranque's precision pass on the right. His first and second touches took him inside defender Scott Dann and he powered a low drive into the same corner of the net to give Sunderland a healthy, early lead. Are you watching, Fabio was the cry from the stands, while former hero Phillips waited patiently on the bench. It meant a lot for Kevin to say well done for reaching 20' because he is a Sunderland legend, said Bent. Seeing and hearing the reception he got from the crowd just drives me on to want to follow in his footsteps and become a legend here too. I was looking in the programme and they listed the top ten goalscorers for Sunderland. It would be amazing to be among them one day. To be a cult hero at a football club is a massive thing and Kevin Phillips is one here. He added: Of course I want to go to the World Cup. It is every player's dream to play for their country in a big tournament and I won't give up on that. You are never told why you are in or out of a squad. Maybe Mr Capello already had his five strikers set and those are the five who he had known for a long time, I have no idea. But that won't stop me doing what I have been doing. If I get called up I will be more than ready. From the moment his second goal went in it looked as if Sunderland and Bent would have gone on to increase their advantage. After Fraizer Campbell was denied by Hart's legs, though, it never happened that way. And if Bent has become a hero for scoring goals, Craig Gordon is fast-becoming a hero for stopping them. After last week's outstanding display against Manchester City, Gordon was stunning again with a string of incredible saves to deny Keith Fahey, Chucho Benitez, Cameron Jerome, Stephen Carr and Liam Ridgewell. Jerome might have beaten him on the hour, when Gordon was left with little assistance from his defence as the striker burst clear down the left, but the Scotland international showed why he has a £9m pricetag after an indifferent first two years in the North-East. His former Scotland boss, Alex McLeish, said: I never saw Craig afterwards. If I had seen him, I would have stuck the nut on him. He was terrific. When I had him at international level, I thought he was a really cool customer, unflappable and definitely thought he could do really well at Premier League level. Craig should have won over any doubters if there are any still out there. Gordon's heroics almost single- handedly secured three points in the second half, with Campbell sealing them two minutes from time when he turned in Jordan Henderson's perfect delivery from the flank. But Sunderland, ten points clear of the bottom three with eight matches remaining, could also point to some terrific stops from England prospect Hart as an indication that the scoreline could have been greater. Not that it matters. Whatever happens at Aston Villa and Liverpool in the next week, Sunderland are suddenly looking upwards again instead of down and that must mean Premier League football will be on the agenda again next season. Match facts Goals: 1-0: Bent (5mins, on hand to finish Benjani's blocked shot into the corner); 2-0: Bent (11, cut inside Dann before slotting low beyond Hart); 2-1: Jerome (60, curled fine finish inside Gordon's far post after McFadden pass); 3-1: Campbell (88, slid in at the near post to turn Henderson's cross into the net) Booking: Gardner (42, foul) Referee: Peter Walton (Long Buckby) straightforward afternoon for the official, with only one tackle worthy of a booking. Attendance: 37,962 Entertainment: SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): 9 GORDON: Did not deserve to be beaten on an afternoon when he was outstanding; 6 Hutton: After a promising first half the Scotland international found the going tough after the restart 5 Turner: Struggled to keep with Jerome for the striker's goal on the hour 7 Mensah: Injury blighted an otherwise impressive display from the Ghanaian. 5 Ferdinand: Looks incapable of pushing too far into the opposition half, but defended solidly; 6 Campbell: Failed to inject the urgency and pace down the right flank until he scored 5 Meyler: Never looked like recapturing the high standards he reached against Man City 6 Richardson: Unfortunate not to score in the first half when he was at his best 8 Malbranque: Continues to look revitalised and was just as effective defensively as he was pushing on; 5 Benjani: Involved in the first half but rarely posed too much of a threat 7 Bent: Took his tally to 21 with another blast that will boost his World Cup claims. Subs: Bardsley (for Mensah 72) Henderson (for Benjani 72) Cattermole (for Malbranque 80) (not used): Carson (gk), Zenden, Da Silva, Kilgallon. BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): HART 7; Carr 5, Johnson 6, Dann 5, Ridgewell 5; Fahey 7 (McFadden 60, 5), Gardner 7, Ferguson 7, Madera 5 (Bowyer 72); Chucho 4 (Phillips 60, 5), Jerome 6. Subs: Taylor (gk), Larsson, Parnaby, Vignal. MAN OF THE MATCH CRAIG Gordon conceded one, but had it not been for the Scottish No 1, Sunderland would not have won.
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