MATCH REPORT: Hartlepool United 1 Sunderland 0

IT was a Newcastle United fan who made the difference as Premier League Sunderland were beaten at Hartlepool United.

Steve Howard, enjoying his home debut after returning to Victoria Park earlier this month, was the match-winner, his ninth-minute opener proving the only goal of a well-contested affair.

It was a first victory of the summer for Neale Cooper’s men, but they had goalkeeper Scott Flinders to thank for preserving their lead during the second half.

Pools begun brightly with Luke James in particular causing problems and it was from his far-post cross that Tony Sweeney climbed to head narrowly wide of Simon Mignolet’s post on seven minutes.

It was Pools in the ascendency and it came as no surprise when they took the lead on nine minutes, Howard out-muscling Titus Bramble before hammering low past Mignolet.

The Pools scorer had another sight at goal 10 minutes later and was unlucky not to double his tally when a 12-yard toe-poke spun wide.

The visitors’ first meaningful effort at goal didn’t arrive until the 35th minute and even then David Meyler’s measured steer from the edge of the area was comfortably gloved by Flinders in the middle of his goal.

The Black Cats were all too predictable in the final third and they had to wait until the second half before their next attempt, Connor Wickham swivelling and driving on target from 25 yards, but again it was too easy for Flinders.

Meyler was next to have a go but he curled well wide from outside the area.

Kieran Richardson came far closer to drawing parity when a swift Sunderland breakaway saw Lee Cattermole roll to his feet on the fringe of the area but a first-time blast zipped inches wide on 65 minutes.

Within seconds Flinders had to be on his guard to backpedal and smuggle a deflected Wickham shot over the crossbar.

And the Pools goalkeeper produced the save of the night 15 minutes from time when Frazier Campbell steamed onto Jack Colback’s corner only for Flinders to somehow claw the goal-bound header up and over the crossbar.

But Campbell was guilty of a glaring miss in stoppage time when he lashed horribly wide from barely five yards out after Hartlepool-born midfielder Adam Reed’s cross had found its way to his feet.