The beach ball may have stolen the headlines in the aftermath of Sunderland’s victory over Liverpool at the weekend but that shouldn’t overshadow one of the best Sunderland displays at the Stadium of Light.
The game will surely be remembered by neutrals (and Liverpool fans) for Darren Bent’s freak goal with the help of a beach ball thrown on to the pitch by a young Liverpool fan (he must be having a tough week at school).
But, I’ll remember the game for Sunderland’s performance. We’ve rolled over against the top sides for far too long and it was fantastic to see us completely dominate a club like Liverpool.
Prior to the 1-0 win, our record against the top four read like a scorecard from England’s cricketers against Australia in a one-day international (2008/9 – 01001000; 2007/8 – 00000000; 2005/6 – 00000010). In 24 games, Sunderland had picked up two points against Arsenal and a point at Old Trafford.
Steve Bruce’s appointment has brought a change in personnel but, also, a change in attitude. In previous seasons, Sunderland would play 4-5-1, home and away, in an attempt to pick up a point against the top four.
Bruce had already rattled the cage of Sir Alex Ferguson with a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, a game that Sunderland deserved to win. Playing 4-4-2 and attacking teams with the belief that a win is possible has achieved a couple of fantastic results.
Four points from two games against Manchester United and Liverpool is a sign that Sunderland has turned a corner when it comes to facing the top clubs.
Not since the halcyon years between 1999-2001 has a Sunderland side went into a top –flight game against the likes of Man Utd and Liverpool knowing that they could win.
The greatest performance at the Stadium of Light saw a Sunderland side destroy a Chelsea side containing the likes of Marcel Desailly and Gianfranco Zola.
Although some will argue that Liverpool were missing Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, they still had a flurry of exceptional players on the pitch, including Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher and Javier Mascherano.
Saturday’s performance isn’t in the same league as the Chelsea performance of ’99 but it is a clear indication that Sunderland will no longer be the pushovers of recent years.
In other news, Lee Cattermole’s injury is a devastating blow. He’s been a revelation in the heart of the Sunderland midfield and has formed a frightening partnership with Lorik Cana. Three months out is a long time in football, especially with a midfield as threadbare as ours.
But, Jordan Henderson and new addition, Bolo Zenden, were exceptional when they were introduced on Saturday and Cattermole’s injury gives them both a chance to show Bruce their qualities.
Lorik Cana was booked again on Saturday and is one booking away from a suspension. His display against Liverpool was one of the best I’ve seen - he dominated the midfield and, when injuries forced a reshuffle at the back, was immense at centre-back, winning every header and throwing himself into every tackle. A Sunderland legend in the making.
* We’ve been linked with Adam Johnson from Middlesbrough, who’s been fantastic for them this season. With Stewart Downing leaving for Aston Villa it’s given Johnson a chance to flourish on the left wing and, although he’s playing at a lower level at the moment, he could be a great addition to the squad. Although our midfield’s been brilliant it could do with an out-and-out winger in the ranks and Johnson, a Sunderland fan, could be the answer. A January bid could be on the cards.