MORE than four years after arriving from Everton, John Oster is finally starting to repay some of the £1m Sunderland splashed out for his services.

Despite joining in August 1999, the Welsh winger has only made 13 League appearances for the Black Cats - a figure which hardly represents good business by ex-boss Peter Reid.

But, after escaping from Mick McCarthy's summer clear-out at the Stadium of Light, Oster has been handed a fresh start on Wearside.

And against Reading the 24-year-old continued to make the most of his new lease of life; grabbing his first League goal for the club in a comfortable 2-0 win.

Oster, whose improvement in form has seen him earn a recall to Mark Hughes' Wales squad, was on the verge of leaving last season.

But when a permanent move to Grimsby - the club he started his professional career with - looked to be on the cards early this year he chose to fight for his place at Sunderland.

Now Oster has become McCarthy's first choice right midfielder and he is clearly revelling in the confidence being shown in him by his manager.

How things change in football.

McCarthy admits he was not expecting great things from the player when he took over at Sunderland, but he is happy to see Oster claim his just rewards for plenty of hard work.

"I had heard nothing but negative things about John Oster. Why? I don't know," said McCarthy.

"I told him I would give him every opportunity. I said to people at the club that if we sell him we will have to pay more to replace him.

"Sometimes there is a but. But not here. His work rate and attitude to the game is now very good.

"He has outstanding ability but now he does the horrible jobs of tracking back and winning headers.

"He wasn't one of the stars against Reading. But he's the kind of player people enjoy watching.

"He has the ability to beat people.

"Unfortunately the crowd can turn when you lose it but they are staying with him now."

Oster's goal - rare in itself and even more unusual as it was with his head - was Sunderland's second of the game.

A clever cross from striker Marcus Stewart found the head of Oster, who superbly put the ball out of the reach of goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann.

Four minutes earlier, Hahnemann had been embarrassed by the talented left foot of Sunderland full-back Julio Arca.

The Argentinian, positioned outside the box wide on the left, caught the Reading keeper off guard with a powerful shot that flew into the net.

Hahnemann was expecting a cross but Arca, who grabbed a wonder-goal at Bradford earlier this month, added his second super strike of the season.

The victory, Sunderland's third successive home win in the First Division, has ensured McCarthy's men keep up with the promotion-chasers.

And if Sunderland can maintain that form then surely it will not be too long before the fans start returning to the Stadium of Light - a season low of 22,420 turned out on Saturday.

Reading, managed temporarily by Wearside-born Kevin Dillon, never looked like a side occupying a play-off place and their opponents made easy work of a lacklustre Royals display.

The hosts were not outstanding, but they were the better of the two sides and made the most of the few chances that came their way.

Former Newcastle United midfielder Dillon's hopes of taking over at the Madjeski Stadium permanently now look doomed.

But he is not giving up just yet, despite Reading's third defeat since filling in for the departed Alan Pardew.

And he said: "It's been one of the proudest days of my life. It's been great. I'm just very disappointed with the result.

"I left at 16, I should really have played for Sunderland at some time.

"I wouldn't be preparing a team if I didn't want the job. Of course I want the job. I have done everything at the club, youth team, reserves, everything. This is the natural progression."

Dillon's side never looked like scoring and on the occasions they did shoot at goal Mart Poom - hailed by the supporters for his heroics at Pride Park seven days' earlier - was on hand to stop.

Stewart had a couple of strikes - the best of which was a stinging volley which flew over the bar in the second half - but Sunderland had to settle with their lot.

McCarthy said: "It was a great performance. I thought it would be a difficult game beforehand but we picked holes in them and did well. We got a bit nervy at the end and we had to defend and work hard.

"It was a good solid win. It was convincing for the most part.

"There weren't too many anxious moments and we were worthy winners.

"Reading are a good side with good players. Forster was a threat up front and we handled him well."

The result was never in any doubt and Sunderland will be hoping for a similar outcome when Ipswich Town come to the North-East tomorrow night.

Result: Sunderland 2 Reading 0.

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