A BEAMING Mick McCarthy last night challenged Sean Thornton to mix the muscle with the magic after inspiring Sunderland to an easy 4-1 win over Rotherham.

The mercurial Irishman wowed the crowd with two stunning free-kicks last night, but it was his overall contribution that most impressed his manager.

Thornton was axed from the first-team squad earlier this season after McCarthy publicly questioned both his discipline and desire.

But, after handing the talented 21-year-old a second chance, the Black Cats boss is delighted to see Thornton repaying his faith.

His goals might have propelled Sunderland to within three points of the Championship summit but, on a wild and wintry night at the Stadium of Light, it was his workrate that earned the most praise.

"Sean's terrific at dead balls - free-kicks and corners," said McCarthy. "He's a real asset to us because of his ability to score goals like that.

"We know he's capable of doing that because we watch him in training. Some of them balloon onto the seafront at Seaburn, but some of them go in like that.

"But it's not just about scoring from free-kicks. It's about doing all of the other jobs as well and, to be fair to Sean, he's done them superbly as well.

"We need players who are prepared to do the crappy things as well. We need players who are willing to track back, win tackles, win headers and support people.

"Sean will rightly be waxing lyrical about those two goals, but he should be waxing lyrical about everything else as well because his all-round contribution to the win was just as important."

Thornton's double was allied to two howlers from Mike Pollitt as the Rotherham goalkeeper endured a night to forget.

He allowed Dean Whitehead's first-half header to pass through his legs, before repeating the feat with Gary Breen to ensure Sunderland cruised to an easy three points.

"I'm delighted with the result because it could have been a difficult night for us," said McCarthy. "I don't think it's the best performance we've ever had and their goalkeeper has helped us a bit.

"But it's going to be like that right up to the end of the season. Every team we play is going to try and stop us playing."

Whitehead's opener settled a home support that were growing increasingly frustrated at Sunderland's slow opening, and McCarthy was delighted at the way in which his side continued to build from the back despite the crowd's displeasure.

"When teams sit back like Rotherham did, we are going to have to move the ball around at the back, from side to side, trying to make an opening appear," he said.

"We did that very well for the first goal, then the game opened up. Earlier on in the season we might not have had that patience."

* Sunderland have confirmed that this summer's pre-season plans will begin with a one-week tour of North America.

The Black Cats will face Vancouver Whitecaps (July 16), Seattle Sounders (July 20) and Portland Timbers (July 23).

* Ipswich missed a great opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the Coca-Cola Championship as Watford claimed an unexpected 2-1 win at Portman Road.

The Tractor Boys could have gone six points clear with a win over Ray Lewington's side, who were without a win away from home since October 30.

But they blew their chance as Jay Demerit tapped in on the stroke of half-time and Bruce Dyer netted a second with nine minutes left.

Tommy Miller, who missed a hatful of chances earlier in the game, reduced the arrears with a penalty four minutes from time but they could not find the all-important equaliser as they fell to only their second defeat at home all season.

West Ham made further inroads into the play-off positions as they saw off relegation-haunted Gillingham 1-0 at the Priestfield Stadium.

Marlon Harewood scored in the 13th minute when he forced in Matthew Etherington's cross from close range and it proved enough to secure the victory, despite the efforts of Stan Ternent's plucky side.

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