A solid performance and in the end a deserved point against much-fancied Liverpool, with Steve Bruce feeling the more satisfied of the two managers at the end of the game, and like last season, we came back into the game after falling behind early on.
Bruce had opted what was for me a surprise line-up, with the following selection: Mignolet, Bardsley, Brown, Richardson, Ferdinand, Cattermole. Larsson, Colback, Elmohamady, Sessegnon, Gyan. Subs. Westwood, Bramble, Laing, Gardner, Vaughan, Wickham, Ji. The defensive line-up was unexpected with Richardson at left back, Bardsley on the right, plus Brown and Ferdinand at centre-back. The midfield had an unusual look to it, but no surprises up front. Overall, just 2 of our 10 new signings started the game. Opponents Liverpool gave debuts to 4 players – Adam, Downing, Enrique and Henderson.
After just a minute, Stephane Sessegnon won a corner, driven across by Larsson, and the ball ricocheted towards goal from Wes Brown. But the game literally burst into life in the 5th minute when Suarez beat down a ball from Richardson, and ran towards goal. He was forced wide by a combination of Mignolet and Richardson, and the latter brought him down. A penalty and a yellow card for the Sunderland defender, but Suarez powered the ball over the bar. A touch of jet-lag, perchance?
The balance of the game changed dramatically in the 12th minute when Suarez nicked home a superb Charlie Adam cross from the right, to give the home team a lead. The pattern of play, with Liverpool probing and Sunderland defending strongly, but not showing a lot upfront was familiar to travelling fans. However, whenever Larsson got the ball it was clear that there was a threat that was missed last season, especially from set pieces.
Charlie Adam stung Mignolet's palms on 22 min, with an accurate long range shot from nowhere. Downing hit the bar after 34 min, although the former Villa and Boro man was deployed on the left, he almost marked his debut with a goal following a superb left foot shot from the opposite flank after running from his own half. Just before half-time Gyan fought manfully but took a nasty knock. Overall, the Lads were fortunate to come in at the break just 1-0 down.
After 46 min, Richardson burst forth to try to make amends for his earlier error, and fired just over the bar from 25 yards, but Liverpool still kept probing, albeit with less tempo than in the first half. Sunderland had a great chance with Gyan header from a Larsson cross in the 52nd, just before 2 attempts by Andy Carroll, who has never scored against Sunderland.
The Lads truly put the cat amongst the pigeons in the 56th when Gyan fed the ball back to Elmohamady, who crossed instantaneously to Larsson at the far post who showed excellent technique to beat Reyna with a stunning volley. The ball nestled in the far corner before Reyna could move.
On the hour, Carroll tested Mignolet, but soon after a worrying injury for Gyan led to Ji Dong Won’s introduction on 66 min. Overall, a much better second half from the Lads who competed well and silenced the home crowd, with substitute Kuyt proving ineffective, and Suarez being pulled off to be replaced by Meireles on 75 min. In the end the psychological battle had been won by Sunderland, with a lot of hopeful balls being lobbed forward for Carroll. The new look Sunderland side had a good balance to it, and we can look forward with some justified optimism.
For the Black Cats, the two centre backs rarely put a foot wrong, Larsson was excellent and seemed to enjoy his debut. Colback looks set to replace Henderson, both physically and metaphorically, but that £20M has certainly come in handy. A great team performance then which bodes well for the future…roll on the Mags, who have had a less than constructive pre-season than their hosts for next weekend.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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