Stokes hits late winner
Sunderland open up seven-point gap over Rams
Last Updated: 01/12/07 5:46pm
Substitute Anthony Stokes hit a last-gasp winner to hand Sunderland an invaluable three points against rock-bottom Derby.
The game looked to be heading for a draw before a determined Stokes netted the winner on his second attempt past unlucky Derby keeper Stephen Bywater, who had just made a great reaction save to a Kenwyne Jones header.
An entertaining first- half saw both teams hit the post. Sunderland keeper Darren Ward made a fantastic save to deny Kenny Miller, pushing his effort on to the post, before Jones hit the upright after Bywater had spilled a shot.
The victory gives Sunderland a seven-point gap over the Rams, as new manager Paul Jewell started his reign on a losing note.
Two or three weeks ago, the Black Cats faithful would have arrived at the Stadium of Light for the game confident their side would heap further pressure on the team which crept into the Barclays Premier League via the play-offs in the wake of Roy Keane's men at the end of last season.
However, last weekend's 7-1 hammering at Everton and the arrival of Jewell as Billy Davies' replacement brought an air of trepidation to the Stadium of Light as the Wearsiders attempted to drag themselves out of the bottom three.
In the event, the Rams left the pitch at half-time with their goal drought having extended to four minutes short of 11 hours, but only because of the heroics of Darren Ward and Dean Whitehead.
Ward, selected ahead of Craig Gordon, dived full-length five minutes before the break to turn away Miller's shot after he had made the most of Danny Higginbotham's slip.
But the keeper needed the assistance of his captain two minutes later when, in an untidy goalmouth scramble, Steve Howard toe-poked the ball towards goal, only to see Whitehead hack it off the line.
Until that point, Sunderland had enjoyed marginally the better of the game with 36-year-old Andy Cole going close to opening his account on his home debut with a looping 21st-minute header and Jones, Greg Halford and Carlos Edwards all firing just wide from distance.
However, Jones, who kept central defenders Darren Moore and Claude Davis on their toes throughout, should have given his side an injury-time lead when Bywater spilled Grant Leadbitter's shot and he fired the rebound against the post from point-blank range.
Derby made a high tempo start to the second half as they pinned Sunderland back inside their own penalty area, Danny Collins conceding an early corner under pressure from Stephen Pearson and Halford deflecting a Matt Oakley shot just wide.
But the home side's response was swift and former Newcastle full-back Andy Griffin earned his money on 54 minutes when Leadbitter dummied Edwards' cross at the near post after Cole had done well to bring the winger into play.
Keane introduced Michael Chopra as a 64th-minute replacement for the tiring Cole, and he inadvertently got the visitors out of jail three minutes later.
Davis did well to block Leadbitter's shot and when the ball fell to Whitehead, he smashed it towards goal, but saw it hit Chopra and fly wide.
Higginbotham managed to get a foot to substitute Craig Fagan's shot after he cut inside from the right wing 13 minutes from time with the game seemingly heading for a stalemate.
Stokes might have done something about that on 82 minutes after being slipped in by Leadbitter, but Rams skipper Matt Oakley got in a vital block to ensure his side's hard work did not go unrewarded.
But the Irishman made his mark at the death, reacting first to Bywater's double save to stab home a precious winner.
|Sunderland||Team Statistics||Derby County|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|5||Shots on Target||6|
|11||Shots off Target||2|
Barclays Premier League
|12||West Ham United||29||31|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||29||28|