Sunderland 1 Nottingham Forest 0

Last updated : 10 January 2004 By Footymad Previewer

Sunderland stepped up their challenge for an immediate return to the Premiership after chalking up a fifth successive victory.

Julio Arca grabbed his fourth goal of the season to settle an evenly-contested match played in a difficult, swirling wind on a glue pot of a pitch later criticised by Forest manager Paul Hart.

"The pitch was not the best,'' he said. "I was surprised when I saw the state of the pitch but I am not using the pitch as an excuse and I am not complaining.

"But I am disappointed not to come away with something. We have caused them problems but there was no end product from our crosses.

"We played some good football but the hardest job in football is to score goals and I would expect the strikers to do something. We can play better football, but we need results.'' Forest proved more than a match for the Black Cats in an even first half, hitting the upright early on and causing plenty of problems of their own.

Arca mis-hit his shot from inside the penalty area but it was much closer still at the other end in the eighth minute when Gareth Williams hit the outside of the post with a fiercely-stuck left-foot shoot with Mart Poom well beaten.

Sunderland, however, had a goal controversially chalked off in the 14th minute. Marlon King crudely challenged Thomas Butler and though full-back Stephen Wright got a touch with his head to Arca's free-kick, the referee refused to allow the goal to stand insisting the free-kick was indirect.

The Black Cats were not to be denied however and a shrewd substitution paid almost instant dividends. The ineffective Butler was replaced by Kevin Kyle in the 36th minute and two minutes they went ahead with the influential Arca both provider and finisher.

The Argentinian released Marcus Stewart and though Darren Ward did well to beat out his low drive, Arca quickly seized on to the rebound to drill home his fourth goal of the season.

Tommy Smith then just failed to make contact with a flying header from George McCartney's left wing centre and, on the stroke of half-time, Kyle blasted over the bar from six yards after Stewart had cleverly worked his way to the byline.

Prompted by the influential Andy Reid, Forest pinned the home side back for much of the second period but the experienced central defensive partnership of Phil Babb and Joachim Bjorklund restricted goalkeeper Mart Poom to virtually a spectator's role.

Jason McAteer twice came close to increasing Sunderland's advantage but manager Mick McCarthy was pleased to settle for a one-goal victory.

"It was a tight game but sometimes earlier in the season when we were looking for a goal we could not get one,'' he said.

"We've got 19 games left and some teams are striving to get into the Premiership and some are scrapping to stay up.

"I've experienced it before where I have had to settle for the play-offs and if we have to settle for it again, so be it. But we want a top-two spot and I'll be spewing if we don't get it.

"We were not as fluent as we had been earlier in the season but it's nice to win 1-0. Thankfully we got a goal after having one disallowed, otherwise I would have been frothing at the mouth.

"If Stephen Wright did not get a touch it was a bizarre celebration. I find it strange how the referee's assistant had a better view. I don't know how he could actually see it."