The less said about Saturday’s defeat at Wolves, the better. The overall feeling from the fans and the club management was that the game was thrown away, and some of the defensive frailties seen during last season’s bad run came back to haunt us. The first half ended scoreless, despite some good chances at both ends. Zenden and a Richardson free kick that came back off the inside of the post were the best Sunderland goal attempts on a snowy surface. The Midland side had shots from Doyle, who fired over from 12 yards and a disallowed offside goal from Stearman to show for their efforts.
Foley scored with a cross-shot after a parry from Gordon soon after half-time but this seemed to bring greater resolve to the visitors, and Bruce made attacking substitutions, bringing on Gyan and Malbranque for Zenden and Henderson. The Black Cats came forward strongly and first Bent equalised with a sharp finish from a Gyan knock-down and then Welbeck put us in the lead with an excellent header. Normally the fans would just expect the defence to see out the rest of the game, but Wolves had other ideas, and in a spirited fightback in the last 10 minutes goals from Hunt and Ebanks-Blake in the 89th minute gave Wolves the points. The home team have been losing games but despite that have been playing well, and Mick McCarthy will be hoping that this result will be a turning point.
It was clear that Mansah had been pressed back into service early, and if he had not been substituted after 82 minutes the Black Cats may well have held on. Boss Steve Bruce paid tribute to the Ghanaian for playing through the pain barrier. He had been out with a shoulder injury but was drafted in as cover for Michael Turner and Titus Bramble at the centre of defence. "He's put himself in a position for the team and he shouldn't be playing really," Bruce said. "His shoulder is strapped, he's had a dislocation, it's commendable." The previous defensive duo were sorely missed. "I said at the start of the week we have to make sure we cope without Bramble and Turner and today we were nowhere near solid enough to what we've been," Bruce added. "That's the big challenge for us, we've prided ourselves on giving nothing away, but today was back to those awful days where we're far too open, individual errors, people not doing their jobs right, all over the place at times and it was difficult for us. "It just shows how valuable they are, only Chelsea and Manchester City had kept clean sheets more than us, so we were doing something right in that department. "But today, to give away the goals we've given away in the last 10 minutes is criminal really, we can't keep defending like that." Sunderland remain 7th in the Premier League with 20 points from 15 matches.
Fans will be hoping for a more cohesive defensive display against West Ham on Sunday, but the Hammers will be no pushovers after their 3-1 league win over Wigan and the 4-0 mauling of Man Utd in the Carling Cup in midweek. The positives from the Wolves game were the Bent/Gyan partnership and Welbeck’s continued amazing form in front of goal.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen