Following the derby defeat, another bad game, another defeat on Tuesday night, versus Brighton in the Carling Cup. The Sunderland manager Steve Bruce reflected his frustrations about two blanks upfront in his post-match comments after the Brighton game.
"What usually marks out a Premier League side from the rest is the ability to convert chances but we just didn't do that. We knew it would be a difficult game and that Brighton would create problems for us but we made plenty of opportunities to win the cup-tie and that's very worrying. Now we are facing another huge game at Swansea on Saturday. We know what to expect and we had better be ready for it, but there's no reason, if we keep playing the way we did, why we can't win matches - we've just got to take our chances and score."
Bruce revealed he kept Asamoah Gyan on the bench for 107 minutes because the striker was "not 100 per cent, feeling unwell" but he added: "The spirit in the side was good I thought but it is fine margins that decide things and we've got to make sure we get what we are working hard for." Connor Wickham, an £8.5m substitute for skipper Lee Cattermole, missed a golden opportunity to equalise in extra time and home keeper Casper Ankergren was finally called into serious action with late saves to deny Stephane Sessegnon and Gyan.
OK, Brighton are high in the Chapionship on a good run, but did we give them too much respect? To start the game with 3 strikers on the bench and just Sessegnon up front was to me erring on the side of caution. I would have started with Asamoah Gyan at least. Perhaps there is a psychological hangover in the side from the bad run that we just pulled out of at the end of last season, and we should remember that most of our new midfield, Gardner, Larsson and Vaughan were picked up from relegated sides, so there may be some fear factor hanging in there, but you would have been hard pressed to guess that after the Liverpool point and the wonderful volley from Larsson.
So the question is – is there anything wrong with the side which a couple of wins would not put right? As supporters, even with Zenden and Malbranque leaving the club, we expected many of the goals to come from the midfield, with Sessegnon, Gardner, Vaughan and Larsson chipping in. We know Gyan can score but Li and Wickham are unknown quantities. It is not too late to bring in a striker, and how much many of us wanted to see Craig Bellamy snapping at the heels of the Brighton defenders on Tuesday night – he had the sense to leave Newcastle.
Alternatively, it could be sign of the side taking some time to gel with the number of new signings, 10. Remember, the side that started against Liverpool only featured 2 of the new boys, Brown and Larsson and they both played really well. The Brighton game featured 5 of the new signings at the start, then Wickam and Ji came on in the 2nd half.
Ominously, the 4 Premiership sides that were knocked out of the Carling Cup on Tuesday night included 3 who one might expect to struggle, Norwich, Swansea and QPR. To be included as part of that list this early in the season is not encouraging.
So we have a chance to set the record straight against Swansea. It will be a tough game, but with the investment and new faces Bruce has brought in, the level of expectation has risen. Sunderland really struggled against the newly-promoted teams last season, taking just 4 points from 18, so Saturday would be an ideal time to put that right and banish the memories of last weekend's defeat in the Tyne-Wear derby.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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