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Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0 – match report

Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0: Old boy Johnson comes back to haunt Mancini as Black Cats take all three points

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UPDATED:

18:13 GMT, 26 December 2012

Adam Johnson came back to haunt Manchester City as the champions slipped to a third successive Barclays Premier League defeat at Sunderland.

The England winger, who was considered surplus to requirements at the Etihad Stadium during the summer and was allowed to join the Black Cats in a 10million move, embarrassed former team-mate Joe Hart with a dipping 53rd-minute strike which beat him at the near post and clinched three precious points for his new employers.

However, the winner was not without controversy with the visitors adamant they should have been awarded a free-kick for a foul on Pablo Zabaleta during the build-up.

Making the difference: Adam Johnson celebrates scoring against City

Making the difference: Adam Johnson celebrates scoring against City

Match facts

Sunderland: Mignolet, Larsson (Campbell 78), Cuellar, Kilgallon, Rose (Bardsley 88), Gardner, McClean, Colback, Johnson, Sessegnon, Fletcher.

Subs not used: Westwood, Wickham, McFadden, Vaughan, Bramble.

Booked: Colback.

Goals: Johnson 53.

Man City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Toure (Barry 86), Nastasic, Milner, Javi Garcia (Lescott 89), Toure , Silva,Aguero, Tevez (Dzeko 72).

Subs not used: Pantilimon, Sinclair, Rekik, Razak.

Booked: Kompany, Toure, Nastasic.

Attendance: 42,190

Referee: Kevin Friend

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Sunderland turned in one of their best displays of the season on a day when City played only fitfully, and Hart had to turn away Steven Fletcher's skidding effort and keep out Stephane Sessegnon 10 minutes from time.

However, if Johnson was the hero in front of a delighted Boxing Day crowd of 42,190, keeper Simon Mignolet deserved equal praise.

The Belgian denied Yaya Toure and David Silva before the break and Sergio Aguero after it to claim a precious clean sheet and make a huge contribution towards the win.

City arrived determined not to complete an unwanted hat-trick of 1-0 league defeats on Wearside and, after a lacklustre start, eased themselves into the game.

They might have been ahead with just eight minutes gone, but Vincent Kompany's header came back off the crossbar and Yaya Toure's goalbound follow-up was hacked away by Mignolet, who reacted instantly to deny the visitors an early lead.

Silva curled a 10th-minute free-kick
wastefully over the bat and Toure saw a curling effort plucked from
underneath the crossbar by Mignolet three minutes later.

Christmas cheer: Craig Gardner (centre) celebrates with team mates following his sides win over City

Christmas cheer: Craig Gardner (centre) celebrates with team mates following his sides win over City

Dejected: Carlos Tevez looks frustrated as City could not find a goal

Dejected: Carlos Tevez looks frustrated as City could not find a goal

City were pinning Sunderland deep inside their own half and it seemed only a matter of time before they made the pressure tell.

Mignolet had to be at his best once
again with 24 minutes gone after Carlos Tevez and Aguero combined to put
Silva in on goal, only for Mignolet to block his effort at close range.

But
seconds later Hart had to dive to his right to turn away Fletcher's
rasping left-foot drive and the Black Cats, buoyed after weathering the
early storm, started to force their way into the game.

Beaten man: Adam Johnson (not pictured) gets the ball past Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart

Beaten man: Adam Johnson (not pictured) gets the ball past Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart

Mixed emotions: The Sunderland players and fans celebrate as Hart and Kompany look on

Mixed emotions: The Sunderland players and fans celebrate as Hart and Kompany look on

Johnson was enjoying the better of his individual battle with Zabaleta, who played much of the half with a heavily bandaged head after suffering a cut, and as James McClean took up the theme, Martin O'Neill's men upped their tempo.

Kompany and Matija Nastasic had to repel dangerous crosses from Sebastian Larsson and McClean respectively, and Sessegnon flashed a header well wide from Craig Gardner's driven 42nd-minute cross.

In the wars: Pablo Zabaleta gets a cut after Steven Fletcher catches him with his boot

In the wars: Pablo Zabaleta gets a cut after Steven Fletcher catches him with his boot

Body on the line: Zabaleta has blood pouring from his head after the incident

Body on the line: Zabaleta has blood pouring from his head after the incident

Back in business: Zabaleta returns with his head bandaged

Back in business: Zabaleta returns with his head bandaged

Larsson drilled a late free-kick straight into the defensive wall, but he and his team-mates left the pitch at the break with their clean sheet intact and everything still to play for.

Sunderland picked up where they had left off after the restart as McClean and Johnson, with the help of Sessegnon and Fletcher, stretched City uncomfortably at times. It was they who took the lead with eight minutes of the half played.

City boss Roberto Mancini and Zabaleta were left appealing in vain for a free-kick for Gardner's challenge on the full-back, but Johnson picked up possession and cut inside before blasting in a dipping shot which caught Hart flat-footed at his near post and squirmed into the bottom corner.

Sessegnon might have doubled his side's advantage within two minutes, but pulled his effort across the face of goal with City in disarray.

Old boy: Former City winger Adam Johnson scored against his former side

Old boy: Former City winger Adam Johnson scored against his former side

Getting stuck in: Jack Colback and Matt Kilgallon challenge Manchester City's Carlos Tevez

Getting stuck in: Jack Colback and Matt Kilgallon challenge Manchester City's Carlos Tevez

Stopped in his tracks: Sergio Aguero is halted by Colback

Stopped in his tracks: Sergio Aguero is halted by Colback

The visitors were almost breached once again on the hour when McClean picked out Sessegnon in front of goal, but the Benin international could not take the ball in his stride.

Kompany, who had already been booked, was fortunate to escape a second yellow card for a block on McClean as City struggled to contain a Black Cats side growing in confidence by the minute.

But the visitors gradually regained their composure and started to move the ball confidently once again and Mignolet had to claim a 68th-minute Zabaleta cross at his near post after being played in by James Milner.

Eyes on the ball: Steven Fletcher and Vincent Kompany fight for the ball

Eyes on the ball: Steven Fletcher and Vincent Kompany fight for the ball

The Belgium international excelled himself once again two minutes later to deny Aguero one on one, but it was Hart in the firing line with 10 minutes remaining when Sessegnon was played in by substitute Fraizer Campbell with the keeper coming out on top.

City battered away at their hosts as time ran down, but with Sunderland defending deep and with tenacity, they simply could not find a way through and McClean almost served up the perfect finish with an 88th-minute shot which flew just wide.

Bad day: Roberto Mancini saw his side lose ground on Manchester United as they failed to win

Bad day: Roberto Mancini saw his side lose ground on Manchester United as they failed to win

Martin O"Neill: Robin van Persie can lead Manchester United to Premier League title

Sunderland boss O'Neill insists Van Persie can lead United to Premier League title

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UPDATED:

18:51 GMT, 15 December 2012

Martin O'Neill believes Robin van Persie could make the difference for Manchester United this season.

Van Persie scored his 15th goal of the campaign as United recorded a 3-1 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford to remain six points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

The main man: Robin van Persie enjoyed another fruitful afternoon in a Manchester United shirt, opening the scoring after 16 minutes with a cool finish (below)

The main man: Robin van Persie enjoyed another fruitful afternoon in a Manchester United shirt, opening the scoring after 16 minutes with a cool finish (below)

On target: Van Persie converts

Match facts

Man Utd: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand (Vidic 68), Evra, Valencia, Carrick (Scholes 46), Cleverley (Giggs 73), Young, Rooney, Van Persie. Subs not used: Lindegaard, Hernandez, Welbeck, Fletcher.

Goals: Van Persie 16, Cleverley 19, Rooney 59.

Sunderland: Mignolet, Cuellar, Colback (McFadden 85), O'Shea, Bramble, Larsson, Gardner, Johnson (Campbell 68), McClean, Sessegnon, Fletcher (Wickham 46). Subs not used: Westwood, Kilgallon, Vaughan, Saha.

Goal: Campbell 72.

Referee: Chris Foy.

Attendance: 75,582.

The latest Premier League table, fixtures and results

The return justified Sir Alex
Ferguson's decision to spend 24million on the 29-year-old last summer
in the wake of City winning the title last term.

And O'Neill can see why. 'Robin van
Persie was a great purchase,' said O'Neill. 'It means Manchester United
are capable of scoring goals because Wayne Rooney is a top quality
player as well.

'Whilst their main players stay fit Manchester United are capable of winning the league.'

O'Neill certainly wished some of the
criticisms that have been levelled against United could be said of his
own team now that United will definitely be top on Christmas Day.

Tom Cleverley's first Premier League
goal at Old Trafford was followed by Wayne Rooney's fifth in four games
to put the hosts in control, before Frazier Campbell grabbed a
consolation against his former club.

'People keep saying we are weak in midfield but these guys are very good players,' said Sir Alex Ferguson.

Fine effort: Tom Cleverley curls his effort past helpless Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet

Slick finish: Tom Cleverley curls his effort past helpless Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet

'Sometimes it gives me a little
problem selecting the right two, although today was simple because
(Michael) Carrick and Cleverley deserved to play after their performance
(against Manchester City) last week.'

Cleverley is making an impact in the
Paul Scholes role, with Ferguson admitting he should be scoring more
often after taking his overall United tally to three.

'Tom has goals in him,' said Ferguson. 'As a younger player he always had a goal in him.

'He has got me three this season and I really do expect more from him because he is a nice finisher.'

Scoring streak: Wayne Rooney netted his fifth goal in three Premier League games

Scoring streak: Wayne Rooney netted his fifth goal in three Premier League games

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the day was Nemanja Vidic's return from knee surgery.

The Serbian has made just 14
appearances since August 2011 and Ferguson knows what a vital
contribution he could make in the months ahead.

'It will take him a bit of time but that is a start,' he said. 'He is a warrior and he is our captain.

Rising high: Fraizer Campbell nods home against his former club to hit Sunderland's consolation goal

Rising high: Fraizer Campbell nods home against his former club to hit Sunderland's consolation goal

'He always battles for you and sticks his head on that ball in the penalty area.

'That is what he is great at.'

Ferguson confirmed defender Rafael
had missed only his second Premier League game of the season with a
tight hamstring, which was also the complaint that forced Michael
Carrick off at half-time.

O'Neill had his own injury woes after losing top scorer Steven Fletcher at the break.

Back in action: Nemanja Vidic made a welcome return to the heart of Manchester United's defence - but the Serb could not prevent Campbell's consolation strike

Back in action: Nemanja Vidic made a welcome return to the heart of Manchester United's defence – but the Serb could not prevent Campbell's consolation strike

'Steven hurt his back in the warm-up
before the game,' he said. 'He twisted it in some way and it was causing
him a few problems.

'It got more painful in the last 10 minutes of the first half and he couldn't continue.'

O'Neill does not know how long
Fletcher will be out of action, although clearly any injuries are a
major blow to a club only a point above the drop zone and with an
already weak squad.

Knockout: Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet and Titus Bramble struggle to contain Patrice Evra

Knockout: Mignolet and Titus Bramble struggle to contain Patrice Evra

'We would have to be seriously
looking to try to strengthen our side,' said the Irishman. 'You only
have to have look at the back of the programme to see that we don't have
great numerical strength.

'But you are going to get injuries and suspensions. It is up to us to cope with them.

Close control: Van Persie receives a pass at Old Trafford

Close control: Van Persie receives a pass at Old Trafford

'Today was going to be hard enough without giving a couple of poor goals away.

'But there is still a decent spirit about us.

'We lack many things in the game but the spirit is still there and has not been broken.'

Held up: John O'Shea (second right) battles with Van Persie as Phil Jones gets stuck in

Outnumbered: John O'Shea (second right) battles with Van Persie as Phil Jones gets stuck in

Missed opportunity: Rooney reflects on one that got away

Missed opportunity: Rooney reflects on one that got away

Long afternoon: Martin O'Neill looks on as his side were outclassed at Old Trafford

Long afternoon: Martin O'Neill looks on as his side were outclassed at Old Trafford

Manchester United 3 Sunderland 1 match report: Robin van Persie, Tom Cleverley, Wayne Rooney score goals

Manchester United 3 Sunderland 1: No slip up as Van Persie inspires Old Trafford stroll

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UPDATED:

17:02 GMT, 15 December 2012

Robin van Persie's 15th goal of the season ensured Manchester United will spend Christmas Day on top of the Premier League tree as the Red Devils eased past Sunderland.

Tom Cleverley's first league goal at Old Trafford and Wayne Rooney's fifth in four games were enough to keep United six points clear of neighbours City, with Frazier Campbell's header against his old club scant consolation for the Wearsiders, who remain deep in relegation trouble.

Yet perhaps the most significant moment of the entire game came with Nemanja Vidic's introduction midway through the second-half.

The main man: Robin van Persie enjoyed another fruitful afternoon in a Manchester United shirt, opening the scoring after 16 minutes with a cool finish (below)

The main man: Robin van Persie enjoyed another fruitful afternoon in a Manchester United shirt, opening the scoring after 16 minutes with a cool finish (below)

On target: Van Persie converts

Match facts

Man Utd: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand (Vidic 68), Evra, Valencia, Carrick (Scholes 46), Cleverley (Giggs 73), Young, Rooney, Van Persie. Subs not used: Lindegaard, Hernandez, Welbeck, Fletcher.

Goals: Van Persie 16, Cleverley 19, Rooney 59.

Sunderland: Mignolet, Cuellar, Colback (McFadden 85), O'Shea, Bramble, Larsson, Gardner, Johnson (Campbell 68), McClean, Sessegnon, Fletcher (Wickham 46). Subs not used: Westwood, Kilgallon, Vaughan, Saha.

Goal: Campbell 72.

Referee: Chris Foy.

Attendance: 75,582.

The latest Premier League table, fixtures and results

Plagued by injuries since August
2011, Vidic's absence during last season's run-in contributed to
United's defensive wobbles and the Serbian is viewed as the main way of
plugging the leaks that have been so obvious for a side who have still
only kept three clean sheets all season.

Not for the first time, Sir Alex
Ferguson used the build-up to offer support to an under-fire colleague,
only for his team to dismantle them 24 hours later.

In ridiculing those who questioned
Martin O'Neill's credentials, Ferguson was ignoring statistics that
showed the Black Cats had won just twice in the Premier League this
season, both on home soil against teams – Wigan and Reading – that are
alongside them in the mire.

Within 20 minutes here, it had become apparent this was not going to be number three.

Ferguson had insisted those cheeky
celebrations by Sunderland fans when the title was snatched away from
their last-day visitors in May would play no part in the outcome.

Fine effort: Tom Cleverley curls his effort past helpless Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet

Slick finish: Tom Cleverley curls his effort past helpless Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet

Nevertheless, there was a sense of purpose about United's start which has rarely been matched this season.

Patrice Evra had already wasted one
excellent opportunity when Ashley Young wriggled away from Carlos
Cuellar close to the dead-ball line, then cut a cross back which Van
Persie finished expertly.

Scoring streak: Wayne Rooney netted his fifth goal in three Premier League games

Scoring streak: Wayne Rooney netted his fifth goal in three Premier League games

Yet the goal also needed significant
assistance from John O'Shea, who got himself into a muddle as he tried
to clear Young's cross, which allowed Van Persie to profit.

Given Wes Brown's own-goal was the
difference in last season's corresponding fixture, Sunderland's
ex-United contingent have not had the happiest of returns to old haunts.

Rising high: Fraizer Campbell nods home against his former club to hit Sunderland's consolation goal

Rising high: Fraizer Campbell nods home against his former club to hit Sunderland's consolation goal

Within three minutes, the hosts had their second.

If Cleverley wants to assume the Paul Scholes mantle, he needs to start finding the net more consistently.

Back in action: Nemanja Vidic made a welcome return to the heart of Manchester United's defence - but the Serb could not prevent Campbell's consolation strike

Back in action: Nemanja Vidic made a welcome return to the heart of Manchester United's defence – but the Serb could not prevent Campbell's consolation strike

And after two goals against Newcastle
earlier in the campaign, the England man finally got his first in the
Premier League at Old Trafford.

It was a gem too as Cleverley
exchanged passes with Michael Carrick before drilling an excellent
effort past Simon Mignolet from 12 yards.

Knockout: Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet and Titus Bramble struggle to contain Patrice Evra

Knockout: Mignolet and Titus Bramble struggle to contain Patrice Evra

With United scenting blood, Wayne Rooney wasted a glorious chance when he volleyed wide from Van Persie's knock-down.

The England striker then steered a near-post header wide from Evra's cross as the Red Devils threatened to run riot.

Close control: Van Persie receives a pass at Old Trafford

Close control: Van Persie receives a pass at Old Trafford

Half-time was approaching before
Sunderland carved out their first meaningful opportunity, which Stephane
Sessegnon struck Evra with before it flew over.

The interval introduction of Conor
Wickham for the injured Steven Fletcher did trigger a flurry of activity
around the United goal as David de Gea denied Craig Gardner and
Sessegnon.

Yet the clear chances kept falling to the hosts.

Held up: John O'Shea (second right) battles with Van Persie as Phil Jones gets stuck in

Outnumbered: John O'Shea (second right) battles with Van Persie as Phil Jones gets stuck in

Rooney's shot rattled the bar after flicking off Titus Bramble, with Young blazing the rebound over.

Then, given the number of goals he
has scored so far this season, came the somewhat surprising sight of Van
Persie lobbing wide after Young had sent the Dutchman running clear of
an over-stretched Sunderland defence.

Missed opportunity: Rooney reflects on one that got away

Missed opportunity: Rooney reflects on one that got away

There was little argument to be made
for a Black Cats comeback and any pretence was ended just before the
hour when an unselfish overlapping run by Van Persie was followed by a
deft piece of skill that took him between Cuellar and Bramble before he
set up Rooney, who tapped home from close range.

With victory assured, Ferguson felt sufficiently confident about easing Vidic back into the fray.

Long afternoon: Martin O'Neill looks on as his side were outclassed at Old Trafford

Long afternoon: Martin O'Neill looks on as his side were outclassed at Old Trafford

After only 13 appearances in a
16-month period that included a calf injury and two lots of knee
surgery, the 31-year-old desperately needs to stay injury free in order
to rediscover his old form.

Evidently, Vidic has plenty of work
in front of him too judging by the uncharacteristic mistake that
eventually led to United old-boy Campbell heading home from close range.

Sunderland 3 Reading 0 match report: James McClean, Steven Fletcher, Stephane Sessegnon score

Sunderland 3 Reading 0: McClean, Fletcher and Sessegnon ease pressure on O'Neill

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UPDATED:

21:50 GMT, 11 December 2012

Sunderland leapt out of the Barclays Premier League’s bottom three and eased any pressure on manager Martin O’Neill with their third win of the season.

Early goals from James McClean and top scorer Steven Fletcher and a late strike from Stephane Sessegnon secured a valuable win which took them within a point of local rivals Newcastle.

Just as O’Neill predicted, Sunderland comfortably won their game in hand to move a point clear of third-from-bottom Wigan and into 15th place.

Early strike: James McClean hit Sunderland's opener with a stunning effort

Early strike: James McClean hit Sunderland's opener with a stunning effort to ease the gloom surrounding the Stadium of Light

Letting fly: McClean lashes in the opener with a crisp left-foot effrot

Letting fly: McClean lashes in the opener with a crisp left-foot effrot

Match facts

Sunderland: Mignolet, Gardner, O'Shea, Cuellar, Colback, Johnson (Bardsley 46, (Bramble 75)), Rose (Vaughan 69), Larsson, McClean, Sessegnon, Fletcher. Subs not used: Westwood, Campbell, Wickham, Kilgallon.

Booked: Fletcher, Rose.

Goals: McClean 3, Fletcher 28, Sessegnon 90.

Reading: Federici, Cummings, Pearce, Mariappa, Shorey, McCleary (Samuel 72), Tabb, Leigertwood, McAnuff, Hunt, Le Fondre. Subs not used: Taylor, Gunter, Gorkss, Harte, Gunnarsson, Obita.

Booked: Mariappa.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick.

Attendance: 37,723.

The latest Premier League table, fixtures and results

Sunderland owner Ellis Short appeared
in the press room before the game to give as good as a vote of
confidence. O’Neill, he assured his critics, is not under pressure.

But a victory against second-from-bottom Reading was the reassurance the supporters needed.
Within three minutes, when McClean lashed home his first league goal of
the season, fans were singing the name of O’Neill again.

It was the performance O’Neill needed and his players delivered.

The three shots they had in the first
six minutes were as many as they were managing in entire games shortly
after this fixture was postponed following an unexpected deluge of rain
in August.

McClean settled nerves, silenced the
discontented and set Sunderland on their way to their most valuable
victory in the year and a week that O’Neill has been in charge when the
Irish winger powered a low, left-foot shot into the Reading net after
the visitors had failed to clear an in-swinging Adam Johnson corner.

On target: Steven Fletcher converts from inside the sixyard box to double Sunderland's advantage

On target: Steven Fletcher converts from inside the sixyard box to double Sunderland's advantage

Wheeling away: Fletcher celebrates his strike after leaving Adam Federici helpless

Wheeling away: Fletcher celebrates his strike after leaving Adam Federici helpless

Sessegnon then tested Adam Federici
with a swirling shot from outside the area which the Reading keeper
clawed to safety.Johnson then drilled a shot into the sidenetting when
Federici had perhaps expect.

Not that everything the 10million
man hit went that close. After 12 minutes he was on the end of a
sweeping five-man move from left to right before he unleashed a shot
which flew out for a throw-in closer to fellow winger McClean than the
goal.

What pressure Martin O'Neill saw his side respond to two consecutive defeats with a vital victory

What pressure Martin O'Neill saw his side respond to two consecutive defeats with a vital victory

Despite Sunderland’s positive start,
and the luxury of the early goal, Reading still presented a threat and
almost equalised in the opening 10 minutes from a cleverly worked
free-kick.

Nicky Shorey, who also fired in a
fierce shot which deflected into Simon Mignolet’s arms, chipped the ball
neatly into a crowded penalty area, where centre back Alex Pearce added
the deft touch which only just bounced the wrong side of the Belgian
keeper’s post.

Called into action: Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet darts across his goal to pull off an acrobatic save

Called into action: Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet darts across his goal to pull off an acrobatic save

That would have made Sunderland fans
anxious but, within minutes, they were almost celebrating a second goal
as Sessegnon drove a shot wide after another good passing move from the
home side.

They did get the second in the 28th
minute from Steven Fletcher, although it was a move that perhaps summed
up Sunderland’s season. Home supporters groaned twice during their
side’s long build-up from their own half, when players nearly lost
possession. Sessegnon, Jack Colback and Danny Rose were all urged to
shoot, only to keep the ball as they searched for the right opening.

Hands free: Stephane Sessegnon is under pressure from Reading's Mikele Leigertwood

Hands free: Stephane Sessegnon is under pressure from Reading's Mikele Leigertwood

Their patience paid off when Rose
delivered a teasing cross into the path of Fletcher and the Scotland
striker, with his back to goal, deceived Federici and Adrian Mariappa
with a wonderful flicked effort to score his seventh goal of the season.

Fletcher almost added to his tally
two minutes before half-time when he emerged from the melee at a Johnson
corner to head just over.

Long jump: reading's Adam Le Fondre hurdles Adam Johnson

Long jump: reading's Adam Le Fondre hurdles Adam Johnson

The presence of Sunderland’s top
scorer was a welcome boost for O’Neill and his side. Fletcher passed a
fitness test after missing the weekend defeat by Chelsea with an ankle
injury. O’Neill also dropped Phil Bardsley, restoring Craig Gardner at
right back, and kept Jack Colback and Seb Larsson in the middle. That
pair had arguably their most effective games of the season.

Reading fought hard after half-time and Mignolet made one fine from a Shorey free-kick.

Plenty to ponder: Reading boss Brian McDermott saw his side sink to their ninth defeat of the campaign

Plenty to ponder: Reading boss Brian McDermott saw his side sink to their ninth defeat of the campaign

The loss of Johnson at half-time
affected the home team but Sessegnon topped off the night in added time
with his third goal of the season racing on to Carlos Cuellar’s punt,
skipping past Federici and tapping into an empty net.

Sealing the deal: Sessegnon rounds Federici to complete the scoring

Sealing the deal: Sessegnon rounds Federici to complete the scoring

Martin O"Neill in charge at Sunderland for year but little to celebrate

Sunderland's plight leaves O'Neill little to celebrate on first anniversary in charge

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UPDATED:

12:41 GMT, 3 December 2012

Martin O’Neill 'celebrates' a year in charge at Sunderland today.

But there is not much to cheer on Wearside. His team are a point off the relegation zone, have a shocking record since the turn of the year and, even with their game in hand at home to Reading to come, are starting to look down rather than up.

The rumours about his alleged demise may have stopped but O’Neill has yet to provide the compelling evidence after a rollercoaster first 12 months that he should remain Sunderland manager.

He has admitted his team are in a relegation fight. And he is right.

Unhappy anniversary: Martin O'Neill saw his Sunderland side crash at Norwich on the eve of his first year in charge of the club

Unhappy anniversary: O'Neill saw his Sunderland side crash at Norwich on the eve of his first year in charge

Hands on head: O'Neill reacts after Sunderland go down at Norwich

If you cannot win the winnable games against the likes of Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion at home, and you have Chelsea and Manchester United next, then you can consider yourself in serious trouble.

Their supporters can take little comfort from their latest defeat at Norwich City yesterday, or the concept that they can spend their way out of trouble in January. They signed Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher in the summer for more than 20million and look where that’s got them.

They are not even playing that well. The first half performance at Carrow Road was arguably their most abject yet of a miserable season, the damage done and their second half revival – arguably the best they have played under O’Neill – was too much and too little and too late. The 15 shots on goal in that period is nearly as many as they have managed since kick-off in August.

Key players have still to perform for Sunderland and the visit to Norfolk was another disappointing one for Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean.

Sessegnon appears to take one step forward and one step back in his games and the box of tricks he holds has been firmly shut for most of the season. McClean, sadly, is a shadow of the player who was thrown into the team by O’Neill in his first week.

At least Johnson is starting to steadily improve after far too many anonymous displays for his home-town club, although his choice of targets for assisting is limited.

Yellow peril: Anthony Pilkington celebrates his goal against Sunderland at Carrow Road

Yellow peril: Anthony Pilkington celebrates his goal against Sunderland at Carrow Road

While Sessegnon remains in the team, striker Fletcher has been the central attacking force and Sunderland will be anxiously awaiting news of the injury the Scottish striker sustained at Norwich which forced him to depart at half-time.

O’Neill has persevered with his creative foursome but with mixed results. But the alternatives from the bench clearly don’t inspire much confidence in the manager.

Yesterday turned then to Connor Wickham, who has still scored only one goal for Sunderland since Steve Bruce signed him from Ipswich Town more than a year ago in a deal which could have been as much as 12million on appearances and, well goals.

The fact the Sunderland manager is now relying on a player he has virtually written off since taking over from Bruce – thus ignoring Louis Saha, Fraizer Campbell and Ji-Dong Won – can hardly be reassuring news for supporters preparing to return to the Stadium of Light to mark Chelsea’s visit this weekend.

Bitter blow: Sunderland's Connor Wickham appears dejected after the final whistle at Norwich

Bitter blow: Sunderland's Connor Wickham appears dejected after the final whistle at Norwich

O’Neill’s record so far this season is worse than Bruce’s a year ago. He has also managed to secure just four wins in the last 27 Premier League games.

The longest honeymoon period in the history of football is officially over.

And Martin O’Neill has a job on his hands convincing the supporters, who were so desperate to see him at their club, that he can guide them even further out of the doldrums than they were in the first place.

Owner Ellis Short did not envisage this when he turned to the former Aston Villa boss – although his manager has pointed out that initially at Villa and Leicester he needed time, patience and a little understanding.

He will get that at Sunderland. And this is a club which needs stability, patience in the manager and a belief that they have found the right man for the job. Because they have.

But he needs to start winning some matches too.

Norwich 2 Sunderland 1: Match report

Norwich 2 Sunderland 1: Canaries flying high after escaping Black Cats' claws

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UPDATED:

18:35 GMT, 2 December 2012

Norwich survived a second-half onslaught from Sunderland to secure their fourth straight home Barclays Premier League win and condemn the Black Cats to yet another defeat.

A second goal in eight days from former Newcastle defender Sebastien Bassong and a smart finish from Anthony Pilkington gave the home side a well-deserved two-goal lead.

But Craig Gardner pulled one back just before the break for Sunderland, who then wasted numerous chances in a second half they dominated without managing to secure a much-needed result.

Doubling up: Anthony Pilkington makes it 2-0 to Norwich in the first half

Doubling up: Anthony Pilkington makes it 2-0 to Norwich in the first half

Match Facts:

Norwich: Bunn, Whittaker, Bassong, Ryan Bennett, Garrido, Snodgrass (Elliott Bennett 77), Tettey, Johnson, Pilkington, Hoolahan (Howson 88), Holt.

Subs Not Used: Rudd, Martin, Jackson, Morison, Barnett.

Goals: Bassong 8, Pilkington 37.

Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Kilgallon, Cuellar, Rose, Johnson, Gardner, Larsson (Vaughan 90), McClean (Campbell 85), Sessegnon, Fletcher (Wickham 46).

Subs Not Used: Westwood, McFadden, Colback, Bramble.

Booked: Kilgallon, Bardsley.

Goal: Gardner 44

Attendance: 26,228

Referee: Phil Dowd

The win moves the Canaries up to 12th
in the table, with Sunderland still only one place and one point above
the relegation zone.

The hosts dominated the opening
exchanges and looked much sharper in possession, with Sunderland
defender Matthew Kilgallon cautioned by referee Phil Dowd after just
three minutes for tugging at Norwich skipper Grant Holt as he turned
past him.

Another free-kick conceded five
minutes later led to the opening goal as Robert Snodgrass' set-piece was
flicked on by Bradley Johnson, the ball taking a deflection off the arm
of Carlos Cuellar before being bundled home from close range by
Bassong, with the borderline offside decision going in Norwich's favour.

Sunderland finally tested Mark Bunn
in the 28th minute as Sebastian Larsson pulled a corner back to the edge
of the box to Danny Rose, who fired in a low effort that the Norwich
goalkeeper did well to keep hold of. The game became a little scrappy as
the half progressed but the Canaries would double their lead eight
minutes before the break.

Bradley Johnson played a through ball
into the run of Pilkington, who was played onside by Kilgallon, and the
winger ran through on goal before rounding Cuellar and coolly slotting
past Simon Mignolet.

From distance: Pilkington sees his effort fly in

From distance: Pilkington sees his effort fly in

With just one minute remaining before half-time, Sunderland hauled themselves back into the game.
Adam Johnson skipped down the left flank and pulled the ball across to
Gardner who arrowed a low effort past Bunn, although the former
Blackburn goalkeeper may feel he could have kept it out.

Gardner's effort was the first goal
Norwich had conceded in the league at home since Liverpool's 5-2 victory
at Carrow Road at the end of September and it meant the Black Cats went
in at the break with renewed vigour ahead of the second period.

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill
introduced striker Connor Wickham at half-time with Steven Fletcher
making way and the visitors started the second half brightly, with only a
clearance from Ryan Bennett stopping Wickham from tapping home to make
an immediate impact.

Going ahead: Sebastien Bassong scored an early header for Norwich

Going ahead: Sebastien Bassong scored an early header for Norwich

Where Norwich had looked calm and
assured in possession for the majority of the first half, Gardner's goal
seemed to knock them off their stride and they played a number of
lacklustre passes in the early stages of the second 45 minutes.

After weathering a Sunderland storm,
Chris Hughton's side started to reassert themselves on the game and only
a flying stop from Mignolet prevented Pilkington scoring his second
from just outside the box.

Back in the game: Craig Gardner celebrates scoring his side's goal

Back in the game: Craig Gardner celebrates scoring his side's goal

The heat is on: Sunderland manager Martin ONeill looks on as his side were beaten by Norwich

The heat is on: Sunderland manager Martin ONeill looks on as his side were beaten by Norwich

Sunderland should have been level
moments later as a rasping Gardner free-kick rattled the post and
Kilgallon turned the rebound over the bar from six yards out.

Bunn's goal continued to live a
charmed life as the goalkeeper's punched clearance from a Sunderland
corner fell straight to Gardner, whose effort was cleared off the line
by Javier Garrido.

Stephane Sessegnon was the next
Sunderland player to have a chance to level matters but he shot straight
at Bunn who had stayed on his feet.

Taking a fall: Connor Wickham goes to ground after a challenge from Bassong

Taking a fall: Connor Wickham goes to ground after a challenge from Bassong

Fight for the ball: Sunderland's Stephane Sessegnon and Norwich City's Alexander Tettey battle

Fight for the ball: Sunderland's Stephane Sessegnon and Norwich City's Alexander Tettey battle

The Benin international again came
close on 73 minutes when the Norwich defence allowed an innocuous ball
into their penalty area to bounce and Sessegnon's overhead kick flew
wide.
Wickham had the ball the back of the net with 13 minutes remaining after
Bunn spilled Rose's long-range effort, but the former Ipswich man was
flagged offside.

With his side still struggling to
contain the visitors Hughton introduced Elliott Bennett from the bench
in place of Snodgrass to offer more pace in attack.

Holding off: Wes Hoolahan fends off Matthew Kilgallon of Sunderland

Holding off: Wes Hoolahan fends off Matthew Kilgallon of Sunderland

Making a break: Ryan Bennett vies with Sunderland's Danny Rose

Making a break: Ryan Bennett vies with Sunderland's Danny Rose

Holt then had a great chance to
punish the profligacy of their visitors but a heavy touch after being
played through by Wes Hoolahan meant Mignolet could collect the loose
ball, before Elliott Bennett found Holt with a decent cross a minute
later only for the Canaries captain to blaze a difficult chance over the
bar.

O'Neill threw on Fraizer Campbell and
David Vaughan in the closing stages but Norwich held on to extend their
unbeaten league run to eight games and move six points ahead of
Sunderland in the table.

Sunderland 0 QPR 0 – match report: Harry Redknapp"s first game

Sunderland 0 QPR 0: Redknapp can't earn win from first game at helm of Rangers

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UPDATED:

02:09 GMT, 28 November 2012

The peace and quiet of those cliffs at Bournemouth may seem very inviting to Harry Redknapp this morning.

This was his return to management and to the Barclays Premier League, his first game as the new manager of Queens Park Rangers, but these were 90 minutes that would make a lot of folk turn away.

Nil-nil, nothing-nothing, nowt-nowt; however it is put, it was dreadful.

Top stop: Rob Green made a wonderful save in an otherwise drab affair

Top stop: Rob Green made a wonderful save in an otherwise drab affair

Resolute: Rob Green prevents Steven Fletcher from prodding a shot home

Resolute: Rob Green prevents Steven Fletcher from prodding a shot home

MATCH FACTS

Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Kilgallon, Cuellar, Rose, Cattermole (Colback 6), Larsson, Gardner (Saha 78), Johnson (McClean 70), Sessegnon, Fletcher,

Subs not used: Westwood, Bramble, Vaughan, Campbell

Booked: Cuellar

QPR: Julio Cesar (Green 46), Traore, Hill, Nelsen, Bosingwa, Diakite (Park Ji-sung 65), Taarabt (Wright-Phillips 77), Granero, M'bia, Cisse, Mackie

Subs not used: Ferdinand, Fabio, Derry, Hoilett

Booked: Diakite, Hill, Mackie

Referee: Andre Marriner

Attendance: 36,513

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But then, even the most dramatic acts
of escapology sometimes start with the undoing of a tough knot and what
Redknapp could take from a wet night on Wearside was a first clean
sheet and a first point.

It's a start. Arresting a run of
three defeats is one thing, and Redknapp said he was more 'optimistic'
than he had been while watching QPR lose 3-1 at Old Trafford last
Saturday.

But there is still no win after 14
attempts and though a point was welcome, Aston Villa's three at home to
Reading meant Rangers' situation at the foot of the table has actually
worsened.

Seven points off safety at kick-off has become eight. Villa visit Loftus Road on Saturday.

That has the makings of a crunch game
but from here on in they will all be until QPR reach some kind of safe
ground. Yet Redknapp's reaction was understandable.

He only arrived at the training ground on Sunday, the morning after another loss, and amid tales of a fractured dressing room.

Welcome back: Harry Redknapp was on the touchline for the first time for Queens Park Rangers

Welcome back: Harry Redknapp was on the touchline for the first time for Queens Park Rangers

Hungry, Joe Harry Redknapp was joined by Joe Jordan (left) on the bench

Hungry, Joe Harry Redknapp was joined by Joe Jordan (left) on the bench

Enjoying it Redknapp looked less than amused as he watched his side draw 0-0 at the Stadium of Light

Enjoying it Redknapp looked less than amused as he watched his side draw 0-0 at the Stadium of Light

Last Friday morning Mark Hughes was
still the manager. If at times QPR were careless here, they never looked
concerned to the point of vulnerability against a Sunderland team who
are struggling as much as the Hoops to find some rhythm.

Martin O'Neill has a real puzzle on
his hands after a result that left Sunderland's run in the league at
four wins in the last 27.

The home side are bereft of momentum
and if one of Redknapp's messages to his new charges is that Sunderland
can be caught, then you could not accuse him of false encouragement.

Sunderland created two clear chances,
both for Steven Fletcher. The first came after 41 minutes, when Adam
Johnson supplied a neat pass, but Julio Cesar made a smart block.

That was to be Cesar's first and last
real action of the game. Redknapp said the Brazilian had torn a muscle
in his groin and that led to the most eyebrow-raising moment of the
night, when Rob Green appeared on the touchline to be introduced as a
substitute.

Flair player: Adel Taarabt was reunited with former Spurs boss Radknapp

Flair player: Adel Taarabt was reunited with former Spurs boss Radknapp

Green was marginalised by Cesar's
unanticipated arrival in the August window but will now be expected to
step up and reclaim his reputation as well as his place.

Given the scrutiny Green attracts
post-England, he will have been delighted that when Fletcher met a Seb
Larsson corner at pace and with power, he was sufficiently sharp to get
down to his left and first get a firm hand on the ball and then a
follow-up smother.

Other than that – and a kick in the
face from Fletcher – Green was untroubled. Admittedly Sunderland lost
their captain and driving force Lee Cattermole after only six minutes,
but Sunderland were too slow when they won the ball and the visitors
were able to funnel back.

This QPR did diligently. When he had
described Rangers' record of four points from 13 games as 'embarrassing'
on Monday, Redknapp had added that he wanted his players to at least
show willing in their first game under him.

'Run about,' as he put it. It is minimum requirement stuff but necessary in a team with wilted confidence.

The new manager made three changes to
the XI that lost at Manchester United, stiffening midfield with Samba
Diakite, who impressed the new manager.

How he thinks of Adel Taarabt is
another matter. The Moroccan was sold to QPR when Redknapp was Spurs
manager but the gifted but erratic attacker was selected on the left of
midfield.

In the first half that meant Taarabt
was close to where Redknapp stood in his new club raincoat. High up in
the stands 375 (now that is embarrassing) travelling fans chanted his
name; beside him in the dugout sat Joe Jordan.

Drab: Simon Mignolet checks the turf during the match

Drab: Simon Mignolet checks the turf during the match

Tricky: Danny Rose surges forward with the ball

Tricky: Danny Rose surges forward with the ball

First there was the usual scrum of
photographers. Taarabt produced a few early tricks but in the 20th
minute could be seen tracking back to rob Fletcher.

That is the attitude expected – by Hughes as well as Redknapp – and Taarabt was trying at the other end, too.

It was his 38th-minute pass which
teed up Jamie Mackie. The Scot was clean through on Simon Mignolet but
the goalkeeper blocked.

The rebound fell to Taarabt, who
shaped to pick his spot, but just as Redknapp was ready to jump for joy,
Phil Bardsley booted the ball clear. The conditions were worsening,
though the pitch held up despite the torrential rain.

But the quality of fare did not
blossom. Taarabt finally gave way on 77 minutes, replaced by Shaun
Wright- Phillips. Three minutes later and Wright-Phillips was in the
Sunderland box drilling in a low shot.

Mignolet got behind it. Before and
after that there was simply not enough creativity. The focus was all on
QPR last night and will remain so until they start winning.

But there are questions to be asked
of Sunderland, too. It's early to mention this but last season 37 points
were needed to stay up.

Meeting and greeting: Redknapp signed autographs before kick-off

Meeting and greeting: Redknapp signed autographs before kick-off

Collision: Rose and Jamie Mackie (right) go for the ball

Collision: Rose and Jamie Mackie (right) go for the ball

Turnaround: Redknapp will be hoping to improve on QPR's poor form

Turnaround: Redknapp will be hoping to improve on QPR's poor form

STADIUM OF LIGHT MATCH ZONE
Back in fashion: Djibril Cisse

CATTERMOLE RETURNS TOO SOON

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill took a gamble on the fitness of captain Lee Cattermole in a bid to inspire a side desperately in need of leadership.

But the midfielder, who is nursing severe bruising in a bone in his right leg, lasted just six minutes before he sat on the ground and waved his arms to the physios and admitted defeat.

His replacement was Jack Colback, dropped for the first time this season by O'Neill.

IT'S SIMPLE, SIMON IS SORRY

Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet felt obliged to apologise to team-mates and fans after his rare howler in Saturday's defeat by West Bromwich led to Shane Long's goal giving the visitors a 2-0 halftime lead.

The Belgium No 1 still received a notably warm welcome from home supporters before last night's kick-off. He duly proved his worth with a superb stop to deny Jamie Mackie.

BOWEN AND NIEDZWIECKI NEXT TO GO

Mark Hughes's trusted aides Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki are poised to follow the axed manager out of Loftus Road. The coaching duo were not on the bench last night.

The QPR hierarchy had explored the notion of keeping either of the pair in Redknapp's new backroom team but they are now in dialogue over severance packages and will be replaced by Redknapp lieutenants Kevin Bond and Joe Jordan.

CISSE BACK IN FASHION ON WEARSIDE

They hardly set the world alight during their time on Wearside but Rangers pair Djibril Cisse and Anton Ferdinand both got a warm welcome from Sunderland supporters.

Flamboyant striker Cisse, who opened an exclusive clothes shop in Newcastle during his brief stay, almost took the lead for the visitors with a shot from the edge of the area.

Ferdinand, meanwhile, watched the game from the bench – a situation he may have to get used to.

O'NEILL TURNS GROUNDSMAN

Few areas have been as badly hit by the rainstorms as the North East.

So concerned was Martin O'Neill by the prospect of the game falling to the adverse weather that he visited the Stadium of Light on Monday morning to see the pitch for himself.

His presence among the groundsmen – whom he exonerated – followed the postponement of Sunderland's first home game against Reading, now to be replayed on Tuesday, December 11.

COLIN YOUNG

VIDEO: SUNDERLAND 0 QPR 0: MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

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Steve Clarke pragmatic after West Brom"s best start in 59 years

Clarke remains pragmatic after Baggies best start in 59 years

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UPDATED:

17:57 GMT, 24 November 2012

West Brom boss Steve Clarke was keeping his feet firmly on the ground despite seeing his side climb into third place in the Barclays Premier League table.

A 4-2 victory at Sunderland clinched a fourth successive Premier League win for the first time in the club's history and saw the Baggies leapfrog Chelsea as a result of the best start to a season in 59 years.

Clanger: Simon Mignolet's blunder gifted a grateful Shane Long the second

Clanger: Simon Mignolet's blunder gifted a grateful Shane Long the second

On the money: Shane Long punished a woeful error from Simon Mignolet

Match facts

Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, O'Shea (McClean 46), Cuellar, Rose, Larsson, Cattermole (Gardner 33), Colback (Saha 73), Johnson, Sessegnon, Fletcher. Subs not used: Westwood, Campbell, Kilgallon, Vaughan.

Goals: Gardner 73, Sessegnon 87

Booked: O'Shea, Gardner

West Brom: Myhill, Jones, Olsson, McAuley, Ridgewell, Odemwingie (Fortune 69), Yacob, Morrison (Tamas 90), Brunt, Gera, Long (Lukaku 69). Subs not used: Luke Daniels, Popov, Rosenberg, Dorrans.

Goals: Gera 30, Long 43, Lukaku 81, Fortune 90+4

Booked: Long, Morrison, Ridgewell

Referee: Mike Dean.

Attendance: 36,390.

The latest Premier League results, fixtures and tables

However, asked if they could
replicate what former club Newcastle did last season and mount a
sustained assault on the big guns, Clarke insisted he was looking only
as far ahead as Wednesday night's trip to Swansea.

He said: 'I don't know. I don't know is the honest answer.

'All I know is up until now, we have
done very well. We have had a lot of plaudits and the players deserve it
because so far, we have been a really good team.

'But you don't get carried away in
the Premier League. We are still this side of Christmas, there are a lot
of games to be played, a lot of points to be fought for.

'Our focus is on Wednesday night, that's as far ahead as we look.'

West Brom reached the break in complete control but without having out-played their hosts.

They took the lead on the half-hour
courtesy of a fine finish by Zoltan Gera, who took full advantage of
Adam Johnson's failure to cut out Gareth McAuley's long ball to turn and
smash a left-foot shot past Simon Mignolet.

Sunderland's fortunes took a further
turn for the worse two minutes before the break when Mignolet fumbled
Chris Brunt's harmless through-ball to hand Shane Long a second goal on a
plate.

Don't look back: Zoltan Gera lets fly to give Steve Clarke's side the advantage

Don't look back: Zoltan Gera lets fly to give Steve Clarke's side the advantage

On the rise: Albion are up to third in the Premier League table

On the rise: Albion are up to third in the Premier League table

The Baggies looked to be cruising to
victory until Craig Gardner's 73rd-minute free-kick clipped fellow
substitute Marc-Antoine Fortune in the defensive wall and flew past
keeper Boaz Myhill, which prompted a late flurry.

Substitute Romelu Lukaku confidently
converted a controversially-awarded 81st-minute spot-kick after Johnson
was harshly penalised for a challenge on Liam Ridgewell, and although
Stephane Sessegnon pulled a goal back with three minutes remaining,
Fortune cemented victory in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Back in the game: Craig Gardner gave Sunderland hope of a result

Back in the game: Craig Gardner made it 2-1, putting Sunderland on the front foot

Back in the game: Craig Gardner gave Sunderland hope of a result

Clarke could hardly have enjoyed a better start to his managerial career, but again, was refusing to be carried away.

He said: 'I don't dream too much,
I'm a realist. I knew the squad of players I was taking over was a good
squad, I knew it was a squad comfortable in the Premier League.

Spot on: Substitute Romelu Lukaku made no mistake from 12 yards to make it 3-1

Spot on: Substitute Romelu Lukaku made no mistake from 12 yards to make it 3-1

Spot on: Substitute Romelu Lukaku made no mistake from 12 yards to make it 3-1

'They had finished mid-table and
mid-table with 47 points both seasons. We knew we had added some good
players to the squad, and we were hopeful that we could have a good
season. “So far, we have done okay.'

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill, whose
side have now won just two of their last 20 league games, was able to
take some positives.

Goal rush: Stephane Sessegnon gives Sunderland hope of a result (above) but Marc-Antoine Fortune sealed the points for West Brom

Goal rush: Stephane Sessegnon gives Sunderland hope of a result (above) but Marc-Antoine Fortune sealed the points for West Brom

Goal rush: Stephane Sessegnon gives Sunderland hope of a result (above) but Marc-Antoine Fortune sealed the points for West Brom

However, injuries to John O'Shea and
Lee Cattermole – the defender has a calf strain and is likely to be out
of action for several weeks, while the midfielder aggravated a knee
problem – left the Northern Irishman with fresh problems ahead of
Tuesday night's home clash with QPR.

He said: 'I think there's a lot to
take out of the match, a lot to take out of it. We have been beaten, but
we look as if we can maybe get a goal again now, which is very
encouraging.

'We have a big game on Tuesday night and we will try to get ourselves prepared for that.'

Arms race: Martin O'Neill (right) and Steve Clarke

Arms race: Martin O'Neill (right) and Steve Clarke

O'Neill was quick to leap to Mignolet's defence after his rare error strengthened West Brom's grip on the game.

He said: 'Simon has been fantastic for us, absolutely fantastic. He is entitled to something like that now and again.

'It's absolutely and utterly out of character. It just slipped out. He has been terrific for us.'

James McClean poppy snub: Police probe death threats

Police probe McClean death threats after Sunderland star's poppy snub

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UPDATED:

12:12 GMT, 19 November 2012

Police have opened an investigation into allegations that Sunderland winger James McClean has been the target of death threats.

The 23-year-old was criticised for his decision not to wear a Remembrance Day poppy on his shirt during the Black Cats' 2-1 defeat at Everton last weekend.

The Republic of Ireland international subsequently received a mixed response from the travelling Sunderland supporters when he was introduced as a second-half substitute during Sunday's 3-1 victory at Fulham.

Threat: McClean refused to wear a poppy in Sunderland's game against Everton

Threat: McClean refused to wear a poppy in Sunderland's game against Everton

It is understood that threats have
been directed towards McClean on Twitter, a social networking site which
the player no longer uses, with police confirming yesterday they are
investigating.

A statement released by Northumbria
Police read: 'Police are carrying out inquiries following a third party
report of threats made on social networking sites.

'Officers have spoken to Sunderland AFC and inquiries are ongoing.'

Substitute: McClean came off the bench in Sunderland's win over Fulham

Substitute: McClean came off the bench in Sunderland's win over Fulham

After Sunday's game, Black Cats
manager Martin O'Neill confirmed McClean had received death threats, and
backed him to rise above any negative reaction from fans concerning his
choice not to wear a poppy.

O'Neill said: 'James will deal with it (the booing).

'I think it is to do with the issue last week, it's a free choice in this world.

'James has lived with a lot of things – he's getting death threats too now so that doesn't help.'

Ex-British soldier Cody Lachey
posted pictures of bullets on McClean's Twitter timeline and one of his
tweets said: 'he deserves to be shot dead + body dragged past the
cenotaph!!'

Anti-terror police were told of the
threats and police investigated them. The 29-year-old doorman has not
been charged and has said since he is no longer a threat to the
Sunderland player.

It was a scar on one of Sunderland's better afternoons where they won their first away match since February.

Ireland 0 Greece 1: Match report

Ireland 0 Greece 1: Holebas bags decisive goal as Republic lose at home again

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UPDATED:

02:05 GMT, 15 November 2012

Jose Holebas ensured the Republic of Ireland ended 2012 without the victory they craved as Giovanni Trapattoni's youngsters were undone by Greece.

The Italian's experimental side, which featured Ciaran Clark, James McCarthy, James McClean and Robbie Brady from the start and Wes Hoolahan after the break, competed well for long periods, but were unable to carve out the openings to take something from the game.

In front of a sparse crowd at the Aviva Stadium, where they were battered 6-1 by Germany in a World Cup qualifier last month, Ireland showed plenty of endeavour and at times craft, but they could not find the killer touch in front of goal.

Heated: The players of both teams clashed at the Aviva Stadium in dublin

Heated: The players of both teams clashed at the Aviva Stadium in dublin

MATCH FACTS

Rep of Ireland: Forde, Coleman, O'Shea, Clark, Ward, Brady (Hoolahan 46), McCarthy (Meyler 70), Whelan (Andrews 34), McClean, Cox (Keogh 61), Long (Doyle 46).

Subs Not Used: Randolph, O'Dea, Kelly, Clifford.

Booked: Long, Clark.

Greece: Karnezis, Torosidis (Maniatis 60), Papastathopoulos, Papadopoulos, Holebas (Fortounis 46), Stafylidis (Spyropoulos 82), Tziolis, Tachtsidis, Ninis (Vyntra 60), Mitroglou (Salpingidis 46), Samaras (Athanasiadis 46).

Subs Not Used: Peristeridis, Kone, Christodoulopoulos, Dimoutsos, Siovas.

Booked: Fortounis.

Goals: Holebas 29.

Att: 16,256

Ref: Eitan Shmuelevitz (Israel).

As a result, Holebas' sweet
29th-minute strike was enough to win the game for the visitors and leave
Trapattoni's detractors with enough ammunition to maintain their
opposition to his continued presence at the helm heading into March's
crucial World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Austria.

The 73-year-old, finally bowing to
mounting pressure, handed youth a chance as his side brought an end to
their 2012 campaign and tried to do so in style against the national
currently ranked 12th by FIFA.

Ireland slipped significantly in
FIFA's ranking table – to 36th place, 24 behind the Greeks – in the wake
of their humiliation at the hands of the Germans, and the Italian's
response was to include Aston Villa defender Clark, Wigan schemer
McCarthy and wingers Brady and McClean in his starting line-up.

He was also forced to make a late
change when goalkeeper Keiren Westwood withdrew with a groin injury and
Millwall's David Forde was handed an unexpected fourth senior cap.

Struggle: Ireland were unable to seal a win over Greece

Struggle: Ireland were unable to seal a win over Greece

Whack: Jose Holebas (right) put the winning goal in for the visitors

Whack: Jose Holebas (right) put the winning goal in for the visitors

It all started relatively promisingly
for the home side with McCarthy finding space in the middle of the
field to feed Brady and McClean on the flanks, and the movement of
strikers Shane Long and Simon Cox troubling the Greek defence.

Ireland had strong claims for a
first-minute penalty waved away by Israeli referee Eitan Shmuelevitz and
defender Konstantinos Stafylidis could consider himself extremely
fortunate not to be penalised for his less-than-effective attempt to
deal with Stephen Ward's deep cross.

Cox went to ground inside the box
under Sokratis Papastathopoulos' challenge three minutes later, but the
appeals on that occasion were more muted and also ignored, and McClean
scuffed a long-range effort wide.

But the Republic looked certain to
take the lead with 10 minutes gone when full-back Seamus Coleman, whose
combination with Brady proved a repeated threat down the right during
the opening 45 minutes, collected the winger's return pass and crossed.

Cox had found a yard of space and
climbed to meet the ball unopposed, but he was unable to hit the target
with just keeper Orestis Karnezis to beat.

Another defeat: Giovanni Trapattoni was deprived of the home win he craved

Another defeat: Giovanni Trapattoni was deprived of the home win he craved

Greece had offered little in
response, but gradually worked their way into the game and called Forde
into action for the first time when Sotiros Ninis took aim from 25 yards
and forced a diving 23rd-minute save.

However, the Republic failed to heed
the warning and fell behind six minutes later when skipper Georgios
Samaras, who had earlier had to leave the pitch for treatment to a head
wound, turned Konstantinos Mitroglou's pass into the path of Holebas,
who span John O'Shea and thumped the ball into the bottom corner.

Long and Clark were both booked for
clumsy challenges as the game unfolded in anything but friendly fashion,
but the home side had rather lost their way.

They might have levelled in injury
time when Brady tested Karnezis with a left-foot strike after being set
up by Long, but the goalkeeper was equal to the task.

Shall not pass: Kevin Doyle could not engineer a goal

Shall not pass: Kevin Doyle could not engineer a goal

There was warm applause from the
sparse crowd when, on their return, Ireland were joined by in-form
Norwich star Hoolahan, winning just his second cap, a fact which had not
gone unnoticed by Trapattoni's critics.

Brady departed along with Long to
accommodate his arrival and that of Kevin Doyle, who was asked to play a
lone striking role ahead of Hoolahan with Cox dropping in on the left
and McClean moving to the right.

Unlucky: James McClean (left) and Co could not bounce back from the 6-1 hammering by Germany last month

Unlucky: James McClean (left) and Co could not bounce back from the 6-1 hammering by Germany last month

Ironically Glenn Whelan, the man who
had pleaded with his manager earlier in the week to field an extra
midfielder, was back in the dressing room having limped off injured
before the break.

However, it was McCarthy who almost
dragged the Republic back into the game two minutes into the second half
when Karnezis failed to hold his long-range shot, although
Papastathopoulos prevented Doyle from converting the rebound and Cox's
follow-up was blocked.

But while perspiration was not in
short supply, inspiration was and the Irish failed to make the most of
the possession they were allowed as the game passed the hour-mark with
Greece's narrow lead intact.

Ward hacked a 69th-minute shot
harmlessly across the face of goal after the Greeks had failed to clear a
McClean free-kick, and Greece coasted to the final whistle and victory
with few alarms.