So this was another chance for Sunderland to end their 5 match winless run, which is fast becoming an issue for the team. As pointed out previously, winning is a habit, and losing can fast become a habit too. In the end Sunderland did not score on Sunday, and have not done so in the last 3 games. What is at the root of their current problems in front of goal? Injuries have played a big part, as they did again in this clash, and no team should never underestimate Liverpool, they have some classy players, but are we using new signings Muntari and Sessegnon effectively in a way that benefits the team? We have not won since they arrived. The issue may be that while we have talented players in the squad, they are somehow not knitting together in this phase of the season, unlike in the first half. Clearly we are missing to goals so well poached by Darren Bent in the past 18 months, we kinda got used to that.
From the Sunderland fans’ point of view Andy Carroll made an unwelcome return to Wearside, and clearly had an influence on Liverpool’s early tactics, as the visitors were aiming for him whenever they could. The home team stuck with Welbeck and Gyan up front, with Richardson, Henderson, Muntari and Sessegnon in midfield, with Bramble, Ferdinand, Bardsley and Mensah at the back.
The game took a while to take off in terms of quality balls into the box. Sunderland were looking to close Liverpool down quickly, and the home team’s most dangerous cross came after an excellent left wing move in the 16th minute involving Welbeck. Soon after Liverpool broke and Carroll showed good feet at the edge of the box but the move fizzled out. In the 20th minute Sunderland’s keeper Mignolet fumbled, and the ball was cleared for a corner, but the game was still very tight, especially in midfield. The Black Cats' rhythm was affected by early injuries to Muntari and Richardson, but it gave the chance for Cattermole to finally return and for Malbranque to make a mark in midfield.
After 31 minutes Spearing ran through on goal and was brought down at the edge of the box by Mensah, and despite signalling a free kick, the referee eventually went with the linesman, and changed his mind for a controversial penalty -fro em the turning point of the game. After minutes of protests, and replays that showed the decision to be highly suspect, Kuyt stepped up to ease the ball to Mignolet’s left. 1-0 to the visitors in a tight game; would Bruce be up to changing the tactics at half-time?
Liverpool looked in the ascendency at the start of the second half. Carroll got a header on target from a 50th minute corner on the left, but the ever-reliable Cattermole cleared off the line, this is some of what we have missed from the guy while he was out. Bramble brought down Carroll after Suarez had found him, and the ball broke to Meireles, who missed the target from the left of the box. On a break after 55 minutes the ball broke to Malbranque on the edge of the box and he looked up before steering the ball narrowly wide. Henderson also eased the ball wide of the top corner in the 62nd, with The Lads struggling to get shots on target.
Spearing had a great shot on target in the 73rd but Mignolet pulled off another excellent save to his left. There was a brief penalty appeal a couple of minutes later as Gyan pulled through, but this was not Sunderland's day.
Suarez effectively killed off the game in the 75th when he showed great control to maze his way through the box and he caught out Mignolet with a cross-shot from a seemingly impossible angle: a classy goal from an in-form player. Just 5 minutes later there was further disaster for the home team when Mensah was sent off for a second yellow card, making it simpler for Liverpool to just to play out the game. Cattermole hit the target from distance a few minutes from the end, but Reina was up to it. That was the first time the team had really tested the keeper with a direct shot.
Sunderland lacked penetration, and did not do enough to trouble Liverpool in and around the box. This has been a tough run of fixtures, but when will this poor run end and where do we go from here? The players returning from injury will lift the squad, and of course a win would bring back the self-belief. We may have to wait until we play more modest opposition, but those teams are all fighting for their lives. As one commentator pointed out, the team is 6 points above the drop zone…not a great feeling for the fans. A season of promise may now just end with mid-table obscurity at best.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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