ANDY REID is not known as the volcanic type.
The Dubliner is more likely to release pent-up tension by strumming his guitar than pummelling a punch-bag, so it was testimony to Sunderland’s fury at derogatory pre-match comments from Phil Brown that he indulged in a rare fit of pique on Saturday.
The Republic of Ireland international was among the players upset when the Hull manager labelled them as underachievers who had given poor value for money after being purchased by the former manager Roy Keane.
The Cork man’s successor, Ricky Sbragia, pinned up the comments in the dressing room and let Brown’s words act as his team talk. It proved to be an effective ploy, with Reid just one of those who appeared inspired by the cuttings.
The midfielder eventually directed a few choice words of his own in Brown’s direction after being substituted when Sunderland were en route to a crucial victory through Djibril Cisse’s goal.
It was a moment that Sbragia enjoyed. “Andy was wanting to show him and went out there and made our goal,” said the Sunderland manager, who had regularly witnessed Sam Allardyce uniting the Bolton team by pinning up derogatory articles.
“It worked for us today. I think there are too many managers who talk about other clubs and they should concentrate on their own.
“It just annoyed me. But it did motivate the players. We were thinking about what to say to them and what we needed from them, but that said everything. I didn’t really have to say anything else.”
Anton Ferdinand, the Sunderland defender, agreed.
“It was a big motivation for me,” he added. “It was a bit out of order for someone who has not seen me play week in, week out to make comments like that.
“It is unfair to say we’ve not been value for money, but that’s his problem. We rose to the occasion though and used it as ammo.”
Brown’s amused dismissal of criticism from Ferdinand, Reid and Sbragia showed he regarded the controversy as a mere sideshow to the main event — a game that may have major repercussions for the future of both clubs.
It was obvious what the outcome meant to Brown, who spent the entire 90 minutes prowling the sidelines and waving his arms in the air either to direct his players or express frustration at refereeing decisions.
Sbragia, a far calmer figure in his dug-out, watched on in bemusement. “That’s Phil, isn’t it?” he said. “I thought he was the fourth official.”
Those officials harangued by Brown this season may not agree, but he will be missed if Hull fail to rectify an alarming slump that has brought just one win in 17 matches and left them in the bottom five at the business end of a season that began so promisingly.
He has added interest to the top flight, with half-time team talks on the pitch, straight-talking verdicts on games and those expressive touchline antics.
Unfortunately, Brown’s team — winners of six of their first nine games in the top flight — are nowhere near as interesting, assured or colourful as their suntanned manager.
He insisted they created more chances than Sunderland, but the reality is that they posed only one serious threat to the home goalkeeper Craig Gordon when he saved well from Kevin Kilbane. Cisse’s goal came after he moved back from an offside position and even the French international admitted: “Maybe I was a little bit offside but it was a difficult decision to give.
“We had some scary moments, but I think we deserved the win. Now one more win may be enough.”
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral) 6: Dealt sensibly with a few flare-ups, but deserved better support for the Sunderland goal.
MATCH RATING: ** A game that took a long time to get into its stride and quality was always in short supply.
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