Not winning against Everton has become a bit of a habit for Sunderland. I don’t recall a win over them home and away over the past 10 years, ever since a 1-0 home win with a Claudio Reyna goal in December 2001.
The Lads lined up as follows: 20 Westwood, 02 Bardsley (Gardner 46), 05 Brown, 16 O'Shea, 19 Bramble (Colback 21), 06 Cattermole, 07 Larsson, 11 Richardson, 15 Vaughan (McClean 81), 28 Sessegnon, 52 Bendtner. Good to see Catts keeping his place, but injury is still keeping Turner out of the team. The Merseysiders featured 24 Howard, 02 Hibbert, 03 Baines, 05 Heitinga, 06 Jagielka, 15 Distin, 18 Neville, 10 Drenthe (Gueye 75), 17 Cahill (McFadden 87), 21 Osman, 08 Saha (Vellios 84).
The game started with Everton driving forward strongly, and they dominated proceedings. Sunderland’s defence was not helped by an injury to Titus Bramble after 20 minutes. He was replaced by Colback, in a game affected badly by a strong, blustery wind.
However, it was the home team who made a chance count first just 5 min. later, with Colback striking home firmly from a sideways pass from Sessègnon, courtesy of a deflection from Distin. It was no more than the youngster deserved after an action-packed season. He said after the game “It was great to get my first goal for the club. It's been a fresh start under Martin O'Neill. He's given players a burst of life.”
The main talking point of the second half was the Baines’ penalty and the passage of play leading up to it. Osman was dribbling into the box but appeared to stub his toe as he was shaping to shoot. Sadly for the Black Cats the referee saw it as contact, but was deluded as confirmed by all replays. Once the spot-kick had been given Baines did a great job.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill commented after the game: "I was obviously unhappy with the penalty. The players that were heavily involved with it were more upset. Howard must have thought there was contact there but there was clearly no contact. It's disappointing because it has a major bearing on the game. I saw him after the game and he was very gracious. He thought our player had clipped their player. I thought we were tentative at the start but we gradually got into the game and became an attacking force."
This was a missed opportunity to go above Everton in the table on goal difference; it would have been nice to end the year on 20 points. But it was a pretty solid performance from the Lads and nobody could complain with the effort put in against an enterprising Everton.
So we have the prospect of starting 2012 an exciting game against the league leaders Manchester City tomorrow at the SSOL. We have some injury problems, with Bramble and Bardsley still recovering from knocks last week. City have few injury problems, and it was they who provided the opposition in a 3-1 home win when the Stadium of Light opened just over 14 years ago, although the team that day certainly did not have the star quality of the current squad.
Sunderland have given their fans some trying times since then with 3 promotions and 2 relegations, and Martin O’Neill is their 8th manager in that time! If he can conjure up an excellent display tomorrow, it will be another feather in his cap. The affable Irishman has shown excellent motivational skills since joining as manager, but a win may be just too much to ask against an outstanding visiting team, who have shown just a few recent stutters, notably that 0-0 at West Brom. Bardsley and Bramble are both doubtful, and with Michael Turner still out, so O'Neill is short of defensive options.
Kieran Richardson has not trained all week because of illness, but is still a possible, while Connor Wickham, Fraizer Campbell and Craig Gordon and Simon Mignolet remain under treatment. These are the games though that all top players want to feature in!
A special thanks to all who have read and commented on this Soccernet SAFC Blog during 2011, another fascinating year in football, which ended with the Black Cats looking upwards and moving up the table.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen