Black Cats search for a hero

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Clive Hether­ing­ton

KEVIN PHILLIPS re­turned to the Sta­dium of Light and was ser­e­naded by the Sun­der­land fans who idolised him in his goalplun­der­ing pomp.

Derby’s first-team coach – the bookies’ favourite to man­age the Black Cats at one stage this sum­mer – gave the Wear­side faith­ful a wave when the cry of ‘Su­per Kev’ went up dur­ing Fri­day’s tele­vised EFL cur­tain­raiser.

They need a new hero now af­ter Jer­main De­foe – an­other goal-poacher par ex­cel­lence – de­parted for Bournemouth fol­low­ing rel­e­ga­tion last sea­son.

And Si­mon Grayson, Sun­der­land’s choice as man­ager af­ter David Moyes’ res­ig­na­tion, says the main-man man­tle is up for grabs – a chal­lenge to on-loan Cher­ries striker Lewis Grab­ban and front­line part­ner James Vaughan.

Grab­ban lev­elled with a penalty three min­utes be­fore the break af­ter Sun­der­land fell be­hind in only the 11th minute in their first game as a Cham­pi­onship club for ten years.

Grayson, who is chas­ing the loan sign­ing of As­ton Villa striker Ross McCor­mack, who he worked with at Leeds, said: “We said to the play­ers be­fore the game, you’ve got the shirt now, make sure you’ve got it for a long time.

“Those will be the ba­sics of what the play­ers need to do. If they’re play­ing well, they’ll keep it. The fans will take to play­ers if they work and score goals, make tack­les, and put their bod­ies on the line.

“Hope­fully over the next few weeks we’ll have a group of 20odd play­ers who sup­port­ers will feel an af­fil­i­a­tion to­wards.’’

Sun­der­land re­cov­ered from a 5-0 home pre-sea­son thrash­ing by Celtic, a re­sult that prompted Dar­ron Gib­son to launch a drunken, ex­ple­tive-laden tirade that found its way onto so­cial me­dia, claim­ing some team- mates lacked com­mit­ment. Grayson said: “There’s been a lot made of the build-up to the sea­son. You’re first in the shop win­dow and you have a huge amount of scru­tiny on such a big club with what has hap­pened pre­vi­ously, and what has hap­pened in the past week.

“But it’s out of the way now, we’ve shown a lot of good char­ac­ter which we ex­pect the group to carry through the sea­son.’’

An old face came back to haunt Grayson when Derby struck. Johnny Rus­sell beat Bren­dan Gal­loway, and when the right-wing ball found Bradley John­son – who played un­der Grayson at Leeds – the mid­fielder fin­ished coolly.

Sun­der­land, with skip­per Lee Cat­ter­mole a mid­field driv­ing force, replied af­ter Ja­cob But­ter­field was pe­nalised for hand­ball. Vaughan failed with two spot-kicks in pre-sea­son and Grab­ban was en­trusted with slot­ting past Scott Car­son.

Af­ter the break, Grab­ban hit the wood­work, but Chris Martin let Sun­der­land off the hook when he lifted the ball over with only Ja­son Steele to beat.

Derby boss Gary Rowett said: “Sun­der­land’s re­sult against Celtic was prob­a­bly bad for us be­cause it was go­ing to re­new their fo­cus. Even if there’s a bit of dis­con­tent, in the first game of the sea­son play­ers are al­ways go­ing to play, whether that’s in front of the cam­eras to get away or what­ever.’’

Asked of his own trans­fer plans, Rowett quipped: “When you say mov­ing, if I’m in a car on the mo­tor­way, I’m do­ing about 15mph at the mo­ment – but I’m hop­ing to break a hun­dred and the po­lice don’t catch me!”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

SPOT ON: Lewis Grab­ban scores Sun­der­land’s first goal of the sea­son from the penalty spot past Derby goal­keeper Scott Car­son

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