Sbragia steps down as Sunderland saved

Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia stepped down after his side managed to avoid relegation despite losing 3-2 to Chelsea at the Stadium Of Light on Sunday.

The Black Cats were only saved because Newcastle lost their final match at Aston Villa and Sbragia, who replaced Roy Keane earlier this season, decided to quit in the wake of yet another loss for his spluttering team. Former Manchester United number two Sbragia managed just three wins in 19 matches and it was the woeful form of Newcastle rather than anything Sunderland did that ensured their safety.

Goals from the France international Nicolas Anelka, substitute Salomon Kalou and full-back Ashley Cole secured a comfortable win for the Blues ahead of their FA Cup final date with Everton next Saturday. But Guus Hiddink's side travelled to the North East without influential midfield player Frank Lampard and the England star is a major doubt heading into the FA Cup clash.

Despite starting this fixture with an attitude and aptitude befitting of their supporters' enthusiasm, Sunderland's graft was no substitute for their opponents' guile. When the French midfield player Steed Malbranque inexplicably misplaced a simple pass, Chelsea swept forward en masse with a series of neat touches and cute runs.

Chelsea dominance
In seeking to cap the perfect breakaway, the Ivorian forward Didier Drogba only managed to direct his lofted shot onto the roof of the Sunderland net. Even the idea was more than any of Sbragia's players could muster.

On such a highly charged occasion it was no surprise that homegrown hero Grant Leadbitter came closest to matching Malbranque's creativity and industry before the break. One right foot shot from 22 yards whistled past the Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech's right hand post to at least remind the Czech international he was in a game.

Yet Hiddink's UEFA Champions League semi-finalists finished the first half the stronger of the two teams and after testing Sunderland goalkeeper Marton Fulop with a smart drive a minute before the interval, the Frenchman Florent Malouda still had time to rattle the crossbar with a vicious left foot strike on the stroke of half-time. A tentative first half gave way to a thrilling period after the break with five goals keeping the crowd on its feet and ensuring Chelsea's players were given the perfect workout ahead of their Wembley test.

Anelka opened the scoring in the 47th minute, and secured the Premier League's Golden Boot as a result, with a wonderful strike from the edge of the Sunderland area but England international midfielder Kieran Richardson replied for Sunderland within six minutes. Substitute Kalou almost bettered Anelka's strike in the 74th minute - just nine minutes after replacing Michael Essien - when he drove a fierce shot beyond Fulop and inside the near post.

When Cole added Chelsea's third four minutes from time it appeared there was no way back for Sunderland but Trinidad and Tobago forward Kenwyne Jones scored the home side's second in stoppage time. Ultimately the defeat proved academic for the Black Cats but Sbragia will be replaced by a more prominent name, possibly the Croatian Slaven Bilic, with US billionaire Ellis Short set to take full control of Sunderland later this week.