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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 10:09 GMT

Gregory furious over penalty

Phillips is now the top scorer in the Premiership

Sunderland 2-1 Aston Villa

Aston Villa manager John Gregory has stepped up the verbal assault on Premiership referees, after his side were defeated in controversial circumstances at the Stadium of Light.

John Gregory: "There is a major refereeing crisis at the moment"
Kevin Phillips scored two precious goals to salvage a valuable 2-1 win for Sunderland which takes them to the heady heights of third in Premiership.

But the first goal, which cancelled out Dion Dublin's opener, came from the spot when referee David Elleray awarded a questionable 60th minute penalty.

The standard of refereeing has become a major issue in recent weeks - and Gregory launched a blistering attack on Elleray after the game.

[ image: John Gregory: Believes referees are
John Gregory: Believes referees are "getting away with blue murder"
"I think it was an absolutely appalling decision," he said.

"The referee has to be 100% certain that it is a penalty in these situations. If there is any doubt in his mind, he must just play on.

"That was the first shot Sunderland had at goal - from the penalty. We have had our people work unbelievably hard throughout the game - and then our gameplan has been thrown out the window by one outrageous decision.

"Mr Elleray will get in his car and drive off home after the game and nothing will be said. But I am fed up with these situations, I am fed up with referees getting away with blue murder."

Five in a row

For Sunderland fans, the row will mean little following a win that confirmed the pedigree of Peter Reid's newly-promoted side, who have lost only twice this season - to Chelsea and Leeds.

BBC correspondent Mark Pougatch: "Sunderland were lucky, not classy"
It was the fifth victory in a row for Sunderland and signifies their best winning run in the top flight for 63 years.

Phillips scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season as he continued to confound the critics who said he could not make the grade outside Division One.

After the disputed first, Phillips second goal was striking prowess at its best as he arrived unmarked to power home a Stefan Schwarz cross past a helpless David James, on his return to the the Villa nets.

[ image: Phillips scored but partner Niall Quinn worked just as hard]
Phillips scored but partner Niall Quinn worked just as hard
And how Sunderland needed the intervention of Phillips, the former supermarket worker who has now scored 72 goals in 91 appearances for his club.

For apart from a bright opening ten minute burst, it was Aston Villa who looked most likely to continue their progress up the table.

Striker Darius Vassell, in for Julian Joachim, taunted the rigid Sunderland defence with his speed and teasing dribbles but his lack of Premiership experience - this was only his third start - showed as he squandered several chances to score.

Still Villa took a deserved lead just a minute after the interval when Dublin rose to flick home a free-kick inside the left post of Thomas Sorensen.

Turning point

The match turned in a short spell 15 minutes into the second half.

Villa's slender 1-0 grasp on the game was first weakened with the enforced withdrawal of pacy dangerman Vassell after he pulled a muscle.

It was then prised open minutes later by Elleray's debatable handball decision.

[ image: Sunderland's Steve Bould rises for a header]
Sunderland's Steve Bould rises for a header
Niall Quinn did well to control a high diagonal cross but appeared to handle after chesting it over the head of Mark Delaney. Elleray however only saw the ball hit Delaney's upper arm and awarded the spot-kick, which Phillips despatched clinically to level the scores.

Still Sunderland looked unlikely to salvage anything but a draw but Schwarz's pinpoint cross presented Phillips with an 82nd minute opportunity to clinch the game which, in his form, he could not miss.

Sunderland could smell the history books and finished the game with a flourish which saw the Premiership debut of 19-year-old Michael Reddy, the £300,000 signing from Kilkenny City who Reid has described as the most exciting young player he has worked with.

Sunderland: Sorensen, Makin, Bould, Butler, Gray, Summerbee, Rae, McCann, Schwarz, Quinn, Phillips.
Subs: Marriott, Dichio, Ball, Roy, Reddy.
Aston Villa: James, Delaney, Barry, Southgate, Calderwood, Boateng, Taylor, Hendrie, Thompson, Dublin, Vassell.
Subs: Watson, Merson, Stone, Wright, Enckelman.
Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill)

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