Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Stoke City 3, Sunderland 1

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Stoke City 3, Sunderland 1

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Rushworth

Within striking distance of Stoke's famous potteries, the cracks within Sunderland's evolving squad were brutally exposed.

Bludgeoned by a three-goal burst before the break, bruised by Sean Thornton's indiscipline and finally beaten by a side below them in the First Division, the Black Cats have plenty to ponder.

If four successive wins had encouraged the club's long-suffering supporters to dream of a pleasant stroll towards promotion, this disastrous defeat proved such optimism is surely premature.

The Nationwide League is not a place where reputation and form provide a passport to all three points and this performance put a potentially arduous campaign into perspective.

Sunderland set high standards before last night's dismal display - occasionally slipping below that level of excellence is a risk Mick McCarthy's men cannot afford.

Yet the visitors initially settled into the sleek passing rhythm which had laid the foundation for a comfortable four wins.

John Oster sent emergency right-back Colin Healy free in the third minute and the Irish international measured a tempting far-post cross.

Julio Arca looked favourite to meet the former Celtic favourite's centre, but the Argentinian's touch only diverted the ball beyond colleague Kevin Kyle. An encouraging early chance was lost.

However, Stoke, who set the First Division pace before a run of four games without a victory, proved they could play a neat passing game of their own and an ambitious 3-4-3 formation frequently confused Sunderland's new-look defence.

Healy appeared capable of compensating for the loss of McCarthy's two first-choice right-backs, but Middlesbrough-born Craig James, making his first-team debut, took time to settle his pre-match nerves behind the advanced Arca.

City spotted this potential chink in the Black Cats' armour and fed the roving Darel Russell at every opportunity.

In the 13th minute the right-winger showed James a clean pair of heels and Gary Breen, rapidly facing his stiffest test yet as Sunderland's marshal-in-chief, was forced to head clear beneath his own crossbar. Stoke were revelling in their ascendancy and Gifton Noel-Williams could have scored a hat-trick inside eight minutes, had his long-range shooting proved more penetrative.

Ultimately the powerful striker was forced to settle for a single goal at the onset of a blistering spell of attacking football from Tony Pulis's men.

In the 25th minute Carl Asaba found space inside Healy and spotted the hesitant Black Cats' back line retreating.

Noel-Williams received his strike partner's short pass with his back to goal but George McCartney was turned with alarming ease as the ball was blasted beyond Mart Poom. Stoke's goalscorer could have added to his tally twice in three minutes, but Sunderland's Estonian keeper was equal to a rasping right foot drive. …

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