ENGLAND international Kevin Phillips sealed an unconvincing Worthington Cup second round first leg victory for Sunderland with his third goal of the season at a rain-swept Stadium of Light last night.

The Wearsiders, showing eight changes from the team which beat Derby 2-1 on Saturday, struggled against their Second Division opponents until Phillips took charge in the second half.

First he hammered a right-foot shot which came back off Luton goalkeeper Mark Ovendale for John Oster to open the scoring in the 51st minute.

Then ten minutes later Phillips made sure of victory with a clinical finish from the edge of the area. Just to make certain of a more comfortable passage in next Tuesday night's return at Kenilworth Road, Phillips had a blockbuster effort saved for Paul Thirlwell to run the ball home in the 86th minute.

But it was not an exciting tie for the 24,668 fans who braved the elements to take advantage of the reduced admission prices, though the second half goals did provide something to cheer.

Luton almost came up with a shock start when Mark Stein took advantage of hesitation in the home defence to fire in a thundering shot which Thomas Sorensen did well to block. Then the striker's follow-up, equally powerful, was forced behind by Paul Butler - two close calls in the opening minute.

The steady downpour made conditions underfoot difficult, but Sunderland settled and went close in the eighth minute when Phillips rose high to a right wing centre from fullback Mark Maley but steered his header wide from ten yards.

Sunderland should have gone ahead in the 13th minute when Darren Holloway delivered a great through ball to send Thirlwell clear, but his low left foot shot was smothered by the alert Ovendale, who had anticipated the danger to leave his line smartly.

Luton showed they were not overawed and in another promising move Tresor Kandol flashed a header across goal following a deep centre from overlapping Stuart Fraser.

Luton continued to press and after a right wing corner Andre Scarlett let fly with a fierce 30-yard shot which flew dangerously wide.

Sunderland were certainly not getting it all their own way against a side which was challenging quickly and refusing their opponents time on the ball.

Phillips went close on the half hour when he turned on the edge of the box to stroke a shot just wide of the upright after a good ball in from Neil Wainwright on the right.

Sunderland were forced to make a change in the 35th minute when Maley was stretchered off after clashing heads with Luton striker Kandol and £1.8m signing Carsten Fredgaard came on as substitute, forcing a reshuffle.

There had not been a lot for the Sunderland fans to cheer, but Phillips earned applause for a speculative 25-yard shot which was saved on the line by Ovendale.

Sunderland were lucky to get away with a poor clearance by Darren Williams, which set up a dangerous Luton attack and a glancing header from Stein was eventually forced away by the uncomfortable home defence.

Sunderland started the second half aggressively and a well-measured through ball from Eric Roy came to nothing as John Oster fouled Emerson Boyce as they raced towards goal.

But the home side kept at it and Phillips, getting up well, put a header over the bar from a Wainwright centre.

Luton hit back and came close to snatching a shock lead as a right wing corner from Matthew Taylor flashed across the face of goal without anyone able to get a touch.

Sunderland went ahead in the 51st minute when Phillips had a shot parried by the keeper and Oster was on the spot to shoot into the unguarded net from close range.

Ten minutes later Phillips made it two, latching on to a lovely through ball from Roy to calmly beat Boyce on the edge of the penalty area to shoot past Ovendale into the net.

The double blast seemed to knock the stuffing out of Luton, who found themselves having to defend against their now confident opponents, though it still wasn't a classic by any means.

Ovendale, given little chance with either goal, kept the score down with a superb reflex save from Thirlwell, whose 79th minute shot flashed through a ruck of players from 20 yards.

The Luton keeper had no luck four minutes from time when he did well to parry a fierce shot from Phillips, only to see the rebound reach Thirlwell, who poked it home from close range.

l Sunderland are giving a week's trial to Torquay striker Tony Bedeau. The 21-year-old Londoner, who began his career as a midfielder, has scored 31 goals in 120 League games, including 17 Third Division strikes last season when he moved to the front line.

Bedeau, who is valued at around £500,000, is also attracting interest from Ipswich Town, Wimbledon and Stoke City.