When Jason McAteer and Paul Thirlwell were both shown the door by Mick McCarthy this summer, it became obvious that the Sunderland manager was keen to overhaul a midfield which many fans had identified as the club’s weakest link last season. But on the evidence of the opening fortnight of the Coca Cola Championship campaign, few are convinced McCarthy has got the balance absolutely right with his new-look Wearside engine room. The central pairing of Jeff Whitley and Carl Robinson had looked negative and lacking in creativity in the first three fixtures against Coventry, Crewe and QPR; the calf injury which forced Whitley to miss his first game of the season gave Dean Whitehead the chance to showcase his talents at Home Park yesterday.
Mick McCarthy last night described his team’s performance at Plymouth as the worst since he became Black Cats boss.
Misery for 820-mile Black Cats
Sunderland 1,300 fans meanwhile must have thought their 820-mile round trip would prove a waste of time as early as the second minute. Scotland international striker Crawford earned Argyle a free-kick on the left of the penalty area which skipper Wotton hammered past Sunderland keeper Thomas Myhre.
Sunderland had penalty appeals turned down when Julio Arca’s 29th-minute cross from the left hit Wotton on the hand.Sunderland boss Mick McCarty said: “It was a handball, I think it hit his hand and I think it should have been a penalty.” Penalty or not, Plymouth went two goals ahead when Crawford ran onto a superb through ball, headed on by striker partner Michael Evans, before slotting home past goalkeeper Thomas Myhre
Unlike Brighton, Plymouth have had no difficulty in moving up a division, their 2-1 defeat of Sunderland at Home Park keeping them hard on Wigan’s heels. Sunderland seemed groggy after the long journey from Wearside to Devon and fell behind in the first minute, Paul Wotton’s free-kick eluding two defenders and goalkeeper Thomas Myhre. The second came via route one – a long punt nodded on by Micky Evans for Stevie Crawford to finish.”It is a good start, but I think the key word is consistency,” Argyle’s manager, Bobby Williamson, stated. “There’s no point in doing it for the next half-dozen games and then watching our season peter away.
Sunderland made a better fist of things in the second half and Marcus Stewart became the first player to score against the division’s stingiest defence this season when he headed home substitute Sean Thornton’s 71st- minute corner to set up a nervy finish.
Myrhe had been at fault for Argyle’s opener, seemingly too distracted by his own players’ attempts at bear-hugging and shirt-tugging even to lay a hand on the powerful, head-high drive. But no blame could be laid at his opposite number Luke McCormick’s door for Sunderland’s riposte. Stewart was unmarked.
Skipper Paul Wotton’s stunning second-minute free kick gave Plymouth the best possible start – and Steve Crawford’s strike, clinically taken just before half-time, sealed this contest. Sunderland pulled a goal back 20 minutes from time through Marcus Stewart, but only one side caught the eye.”We should not fear anyone – we are organised and we know what it is about now,” said a delighted Williamson.”This club is getting bigger and its a credit to those who work behind the scenes as well as the lads on the pitch.”
Plymouth’s start to the season with seven points from three games has shocked the division, and yesterday it was Sunderland’s turn to discover just how quick they are out of the blocks.
Sunderland failed to capitalise on Carl Robinson’s deflected twelfth-minute opener, and should have been out of sight when a cross from Dean Ashton found Mark Rivers unmarked to slide home the equaliser two minutes before the interval.
However, with one swing of the boot, his last act before being substituted, Stewart earned a rather more generous send-off than he might have received. Stephen Elliott, the substitute, completed the scoring in stoppage time.
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): T Myhre — S Wright, G Breen, S Caldwell, J Arca — L Lawrence (sub: S Thornton, 83min), C Robinson, J Whitley, J Oster — M Stewart (sub: S Elliott 75), K Kyle (sub: B Clark 90). Substitutes not used: D Williams, B Alnwick. Booked: L Lawrence, S Wright, K Kyle.
CREWE ALEXANDRA (4-4-2) B Williams