Saturday was a day when our players had to stand up and be counted. It was the day when the team started their rehabilitation in front of the fans who suffered terribly 6 days earlier, and the crowd were a bit restless at the start.
The game overall was much closer that the 2-0 score suggests, the difference being the stunning finishing of Asmoah Gyan. He gave Stoke an early lesson in goal-poaching, latching on to a saved shot from Onuoha to steer the ball home expertly after an excellent move by The Lads. Stoke are known to be a hard team to play against, and they were very good at closing down the home side, especially in the fist half when Kenwyne Jones ploughed a lonely furrow on his return to the SSOL. In the second half though, the referee was a talking point, after the tigerish Cattermole seemed to wrestle the ball off the line from a Jones header.
From a Sunderland fan’s point of view Cattermole showed superb commitment and determination by protecting his goal. He kept the ball from going in at both posts, and constantly drove the team forward. In the Sky post-match summary, Tony Pulis focused on what he saw as a handball, with Cattermole deserving of a dismissal and Stoke scoring from the resultant penalty. What he chose not to mention was that Sunderland missed an earlier penalty when Gyan was pulled down just before the half hour. Malbranque had poor body language when he took the shot, which was duly saved by Begovic.
To be fair, Stoke made real fist of it in the second half, disrupting Sunderland’s game, and creating a few chances of their own. Most of their forward moves came along the right, but it just was not their day. You feel their pain after 5 defeats, they are not a bad side. Sunderland relied on Mensah to hold things together with Turner at the back in Bramble's absence, until he was taken off with a shoulder injury. The defence looked solid overall, and at the end Sunderland re-established their momentum with Zenden going close, and then in a great move, a rejuvenated Richardson surged forward to cross from the left. Huth diverted the ball to Gyan who drove home brilliantly like the world-class striker he is, to ease Steve Bruce's furrowed brow.
Job done, and in an incident-packed game, the Black Cats kept their shape and their heads, and started their rehabilitation. Gyan looked fresh and confident, and was a threat throughout. So it is 4 clean sheets in 5 games, but the defence will now surely be tested severely in consecutive away games against Spurs and Chelsea. Can the team keep up their great record against the top teams?
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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