Sunderland off the pace


Sunderland were relegated from the Premiership after losing at Wimbledon in May 1997. Yesterday's defeat against the same club may signal a different sort of demise.

Peter Reid's Premiership upstarts have taken only one point from the past nine and suddenly the sound of bubbles bursting has nothing to do with new year champagne.

Though they had six first-team players out injured, Wimbledon's makeshift side made relatively easy work of easing their regulation worries.

Had they won, Sunderland could have gone third. But they began the game as if they were still preening themselves about the past year rather than getting to grips with the next. And they paid the price.

Unusually for a team whose success has been built on fight and spirit, Sunderland seemed laid-back for much of the first half and struggled to get to grips with the game.

After a rare Sunderland counter-attack broke down the visitors were caught short at the back. A twist and turn on the left of the area by the impressive Martin Andresen ended with a little chip to the back of the six-yard box, where Cort, unmarked, headed past Marriott for his 13th goal of the season.

Despite Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips being passed fit, Sunderland struggled to pose any serious threat to Neil Sullivan's goal, mainly for want of a decent final ball. And it did not help when Nicky Summerbee went off injured after a clash with Ben Thatcher.

Sunderland have enjoyed a great start to this season, but not a great start to the year.

Wimbledon: Sullivan, Cunningham, Thatcher, Andersen, Hreidarsson, Badir (Ardley 66), Willmott, Andresen (Francis 87), Euell, Cort, Gayle. Subs Not Used: Leaburn, Davis, Gray. Booked: Gayle, Badir, Hreidarsson, Andersen. Goal: Cort 30.

Sunderland: Marriott, Makin (Oster 73), Bould, Kilbane, Butler, Gray, Summerbee (Williams 35), Schwarz, McCann, Quinn, Phillips. Subs Not Used: Thirlwell, Roy, Reddy. Booked: Makin, Quinn, McCann.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).