It was the sort of performance that Jordan Henderson would have been happy to be part of. Jack Colback looked the every bit the part of an old-fashioned, creative box-to-box midfielder, keeping it simple and aggressive. He easily outplayed his erstwhile friend, who was overshadowed by fellow debutants Downing and Adam in the home midfield. Credit must also be given to Kieran Richardson for surging back to tackle Suarez after 5 min., and several reports have suggested that he dived for the penalty. Perhaps justice was done when the Uruguayan blazed over the bar. The Ferdinand/Brown combination at the back looked very sound, dealing with almost everything thrown at them, and it has a nice ring to it.
The midfield put in a good shift, Elmohamady’s selection was perhaps a surprise to some, but Bruce chose to be loyal to much of the side that finished in 10th spot with 3 wins, including 2 away, from their last 5 games, and this was achieved with essentially no strikers until Gyan returned for the 3-0 win at West Ham. Larsson and Brown were the only two newcomers who started; and Bruce asserted before the game that this was the best squad he had ever assembled. And he has done it with very little net outlay.
If Man. City or Arsenal had played like Sunderland did yesterday and come away with a hard-earned point, there would have been no astonishment at all. No surprise from Sunderland fans either.
To put the game into its context, one could do worse that read Rory Smith’s report in the Telegraph, and I quote sections of it below:
“New owners, new players, new manager, new hope. Same expectations, same deflation, same Liverpool. Kenny Dalglish's return may have been granted Anfield its longed-for messiah, Fenway Sports Group may have invested the riches of Croesus, but few clubs can be as mired in bathos as Liverpool.
Every season, the occupant of the manager's chair, the big man in the Boot Room, issues a plea to fans more desperate for success than any other to manage their expectations, to recall that renaissance does not happen overnight. Every season it falls on deaf ears, even when it comes from Dalglish, a man as written into this club's DNA as glory and the anticipation thereof.
And so Liverpool's supporters came to Anfield unable to help themselves; John W. Henry, their benefactor, was in the stands, ready to see what £100 million, FSG's total investment in the squad, can buy. Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Jose Enrique, Charlie Adam. Plus Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, all present and correct. A swashbuckling, exhilarating start. And the inevitable, inexorable come-down. This was the Kop's experience of the last 20 years, boiled down into one dispiriting afternoon.
…But the energy ebbed, testament to a disjointed pre-season in which few of this side have featured regularly. The passes began to run astray, the marking became less than limpet-like. Sunderland, asphyxiated in the first half, began to breathe easily. Liverpool, put simply, choked.
It was plain to see as early as the dying stages of the first half, when Jamie Carragher was fortunate to remain on the pitch after a hideous foul on Asamoah Gyan. But in the second half, Sunderland asserted themselves. The visitors equalised in spectacular fashion, Sebastian Larsson volleying home a pinpoint cross from Ahmed Elmohamady, and by the end would have considered themselves the more dangerous side.
It is a sight that is far too familiar on Merseyside. This is the sort of home performance that has marred too many seasons since Dalglish departed all those years ago. It should not be cause for too much dejection - these players, ring-rusty, will need time to familiarise themselves with their new team-mates - but it provides a welcome, well-timed warning: there are no quick fixes, whatever you expect.”
Steve Bruce has taken two seasons to shape the Black Cats’ squad into a team which emulates his character. Optimism is now apparently justified
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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