By Damian Spellman
UNLIKELY hero Daryl Murphy is refusing to give up on his Premiership dream, after snatching just a fourth home point of the season for Sunderland.
The Republic of Ireland U-21 striker denied high-flying Tottenham victory at the Stadium of Light - something only West Brom, West Ham and Bolton had previously failed to achieve among 13 who have tried this season - with an 89th-minute equaliser to finally take Sunderland’s points tally into double figures.
With just 13 games remaining - and eight of them, starting with tomorrow’s trip to Blackburn, away from home - the chances of the Black Cats closing the 16-point gap which currently stands between them and safety are remote to say the least.
But Murphy, a £100,000 signing from Waterford last summer, is simply hoping for further chances to experience something he never expected to.
"I never thought I would be in the team this season," he admitted after Sunday’s 1-1 draw.
"I thought I might not get a chance until next year. But I’ve had seven or eight Premiership games now. It was great getting my first start at Arsenal. But scoring this goal beats it, and I have to try to take my opportunities."
Murphy has had to be patient as manager Mick McCarthy has relied up front on fellow summer signings Jon Stead and Andy Gray - as well as, before he was injured, Stephen Elliott.
Kevin Kyle’s return from a 17-month lay-off has given McCarthy a fresh option in recent weeks, but the Irishman has not been forgotten. His big moment came as a substitute when, with Robbie Keane’s 38th-minute opener looking to have given the visitors all three points, Julio Arca gave him a chance to run at defender Paul Stalteri.
"I thought the chance had gone for me," he said.
"It was a great ball from Julio, and I thought I was always going to be first to it. But the defender did get goal-side of me. There was a bit of work to be done, and luckily enough I got a break and put it away. Maybe I should not have had that chance to score, but it shows what can happen if you get a bit of luck.
"It’s an unbelievable feeling, my first senior goal and first Premiership goal. The gaffer’s been great with all of us. He made me believe that I could play at this level. Your first goal is always important, and I hope it’s not the last."
Murphy and his team-mates will head for Ewood Park knowing their chances of escaping the drop are minimal but determined to overhaul the record low 19 points they managed when they were last relegated three years ago.
Spurs boss Martin Jol left the north-east bemoaning his side’s failure to kill the game off - a tendency he admits could prove costly to their European ambitions.
"At Fulham, we lost the game in the last minute to a free-kick - and the only games we have lost have been 1-0," he said.
"It’s not about defending, because our defensive record is very good. It’s about scoring goals. If you are 2-0 up it’s not nice to concede a goal, but you still have the three points on the board. If you are 1-0 up it’s always a matter of not being nervous, but you still realise they can score a goal."