Black Cats v Rams Report
Stadium of Light
Miller pounces late to stun Rams
Sunderland`s Liam Miller`s injury-time winner, knocked Derby County off the top of the table, but it was hard on the Rams who battled back from a goal down. A wonderful solo goal from teenager Giles Barnes looked to have earned them a share of the points, but Miller rose to meet Grant Leadbitter`s late cross, flicking it beyond Stephen Bywater at the far post.
Marc Edworthy was in the middle of the defence again, as Billy Davies made three changes to the side beaten by Stoke City in midweek.
Dean Leacock was ruled out with his knee injury so Tyrone Mears came in at right back, meaning Edworthy remained at centre half having taken over there against the Potters.
Darren Moore was back alongside him after suspension, replacing Michael Johnson, who dropped to the bench, while Stephen Pearson returned to the starting line-up ahead of Jon Macken. The Black Cats included former Derby loan striker Stern John in their line-up.
The hosts had the first clear chance of the game in the 11th minute, Tobias Hysen cutting inside, before sending a low shot flashing across the face of goal and just wide. Derby's midfield - with skipper Matt Oakley sitting between Pearson and David Jones - looked more compact in the early stages of the game, but they failed to click up front with lone striker Steve Howard not getting the support that he wanted.
But with chances hard to come by, the deadlock was broken from the penalty spot on 27 minutes, when referee Martin Atkinson spotted a tug on David Connolly by Marc Edworthy. Connolly himself took the spot-kick, sending Bywater the wrong way for his 10th goal of the season.
Moments later John almost doubled the lead in spectacular fashion, sending a volley just wide from Danny Simpson`s cross.
Connolly went close again, nicking the ball off Edworthy in the area but seeing his shot deflect into Bywater`s hands.
The Sunderland defence was holding Derby in check and goalkeeper Darren Ward, was having a quiet afternoon and Derby were having plenty of possession but lacked the final ball. On 41 minutes the Rams won their first corner as Ward turned away Gary Teale's crossed free kick and their first effort on target came with 90 seconds remaining of the first 45 as Howard flicked on McEveley's long throw from the left, but Teale's header was comfortable saved by Ward.
Davies introduced Barnes for the start of the second half, hoping to put a little more spark in the attack.
It almost paid immediate dividends when the teenager got himself free inside the area, only to head over from Craig Fagan`s cross with the goal gaping. Encouraged, Derby set about launching an all-out assault.
Howard, under close attention from Danny Collins, prodded a looping shot goal wards which Ward did well to tip over.
From the corner, Matt Oakley fired just over, and Howard then saw a header cleared off the line by Hysen.
When it came, the equaliser was something special. Barnes picked the ball up on the edge of the area before breaking forward, beating two men with a quick spin before firing through the legs of Nyron Nosworthy and beyond the helpless Ward.
The goal blew the game wide open but if anything, it was too frantic, neither team able to create clear openings.
Connolly tumbled meekly under Darren Moore`s challenge, but two penalties after a 16-month wait was too much to ask and he was instead booked for the dive.
Substitute Daryl Murphy thought he had restored Sunderland`s lead in the 75th minute, but having created the angle for the shot, he saw his effort come back off the post with Bywater beaten.
David Jones wasted a glorious chance for the Rams with 10 minutes left when he fired over from eight-yards out after Barnes crossed.
At the other end, Dwight Yorke burst through the middle but Bywater did well to save at his feet. The Rams broke in stoppage-time and won a corner on the left, but failed to make the most of it, and they were made to pay right at the death. Leadbitter whipped over a cross from the left and Miller got the slightest of touches to glance it home from six- yards. A bitter blow for the Rams, but they have to re-group for another test on Friday evening with Colchester United visiting Pride Park in front of the Sky TV cameras.
Sunderland - GK Ward, Simpson, Evans, Edwards, Nosworthy, Collins, Hysen (Leadbitter 68), John (Murphy 57), Connolly, Yorke (C), L Miller
Subs not used: T Miller, Varga, Fulop
Derby County - GK Bywater, Mears, Edworthy, Moore, McEveley, Oakley (C), Jones, Pearson (M Johnson 85), Teale (Barnes 45), Howard, Fagan (Peschisolido 70)
Subs not used: Macken, Grant.
Referee - Martin Atkinson
Att - 36,049
Defeat was hard on the Rams who surrendered top spot to West Brom on goal difference, but more worrying for Billy Davies will be a run of three straight. Still, he had no complaints about the way his side is performing.
''I thought we deserved to come away with three points.`` he said.
''I would still question what I thought was a contentious penalty. I didn`t see any of the Sunderland players appealing for it.
'The referee says he`s seen a tug of the jersey but I don`t know where he`s got that from.
''We`ve lost a lot of penalties of late, it`s incredible, and we`re just not getting the luck.
'The effort is there, the spirit is there but the luck is not.
''I thought we matched them in the first half and then pummeled them in the second, having about 25 chances to their four. I`m sure Keane and his players and the fans of this club are feeling very fortunate tonight.``
"That's the last two matches now, Sunderland and Stoke, where we have deserved more but unfortunately Lady Luck has gone against us," Davies added.
"That's football, but now we look forward to the next match.
"There is nothing you can do about four penalties in the three games, even though we might question a huge amount of them.
"What we will do is to encourage the lads to play the way they did in the second half.
"We are up there fighting and now we are looking forward to the remainder of the season.
"Everyone knows they got out of jail for free today - Keano does, the fans do, and we do.
"But if we can continue to play the way we have done in the second half of matches, with that little bit of luck, we will pick up more points than we don't."
The win puts Sunderland within touching distance of the top two, but Keane is keeping his cool.
''Right now we`re the fourth or fifth best team in the league because that`s where we are in the table,`` he said.
''If we`d have drawn today we would have been back down in ninth and you`ve got to give credit to the other teams, they are all on good runs.
''It was a very close game and it could have gone either way.
''Both teams have chances. It was a great game for the neutral. We`ve lost out to a last minute goal in the week at Birmingham, so it was nice to score one so late.``
Although it was in a losing cause, Giles Barnes' goal was perhaps the highlight of the game and Keane admitted he could only stand back and admire the equaliser.
''If I was going to be overly critical, I`d look at our defending, but I turned to our bench and said that was a top, top goal,`` he said.
''I still think Derby are one of the clear favourites to go up, they`ve got experience in defence, pace in midfield, and the lad up front Steve Howard who is a real handful.``
Meanwhile, Keane denied that Anthony Stokes had been left out of his 16 for disciplinary reasons.
''Absolutely not,`` he said.
''There were other players left out too and they would all be disappointed.
''I can only pick 11 players and have five on the bench and I just felt he`s had three games on the bounce so I thought we`d leave him out and get him ready for next week.``