A game that for much of the time looked like the 2011-model Sunderland – lots of territorial advantage, endeavour – huffing and puffing, but seemingly nobody to drive home that advantage – until the 84th minute…
Sunderland lined up as follows: 20 Westwood, 02 Bardsley, 05 Brown, 11 Richardson, 16 O'Shea, 19 Bramble, 07 Larsson, 14 Colback (McClean 76) 15 Vaughan, 28 Sessegnon, 10 Wickham (Ji Dong-Won 76). Subs 24 Carson, 12 Kilgallon, 18 Meyler, 23 McClean, 27 Elmohamady, 17 Ji Dong-Won, 31 Noble.
Great to see Connor Wickham back after his early doors knee problem and stretchering off at Old Trafford; happy to see it was not a serious injury. I saw him live against Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light and he had an almost complete striker’s game, a constant thorn in Villa’s side throughout, he contrived to score a great first goal for the club. There was also an incipient understanding emerging with Niklas Bendtner. Bramble is back, although a couple of the commentators I heard suggested that he had been putting on the meat a bit during his long lay-off; Titus, you will need to watch the turkey this year...
The other key question is of course, is Catts in O’Neill’s plans? The “ball-winning midfielder” was suspended for this match, and is soon to “celebrate” his 50th yellow card in the Prem., but will his talented but somewhat abrasive playing style be appreciated by the former Cloughite O’Neill? I like Catts, but Sunderland legend Brian Clough’s teams were famed for being disciplined and for not arguing with the referee, making it a pleasure to officiate at those matches, by all accounts.
I have read Cloughie’s amazing autobiography, and put it in the mail to then manager Roy Keane with a thank-you note, around the time he had established us in the Premiership over 3 years ago. I never heard back from him; perhaps the dog ate it...
Blackburn Rovers – always a good game from The Cats’ point of view. We tonked them 3-0 at the SSOL last season, and I have been following the progress of Steve Kean, and the controversy surrounding him, with interest this season. Rovers have the porky but dangerous Yakubu leading the attack, with great effect last weekend.
There is a vocal minority at Ewood Park who wants the voluble Scotsman out of the club, with Mark Hughes looking to be reinstated as manager. Venky’s have fired/fried up an interesting team who can definitely scrap, but who are the stars? Their line-up was 01 Robinson, 02 Salgado (Hanley 51), 04 Samba, 05 Givet (Olsson 22) (Henley 46), 16 Dann, 8 Dunn, 10 Formica, 12 Pedersen, 29 Vukcevic, 35 Lowe, 24 Yakubu. Substitutes: 13 Bunn, 03 Olsson, 31 Hanley, 39 Henley, 22 Blackman, 25 Goodwillie, 30 Roberts
Could you write that script? Dominating possession but looking a bit toothless at times in attack, Sunderland started well but went behind early on. Samba, who had a terrific game throughout went past Colback, who came close to bringing him down, and shot towards goal. The rebound from Westwood came back for a great header from Simon Vukcevic, who stood out with his Robocop-type mask. 1-0 on 17 min., giving the Lancastrians something to defend.
Sunderland had a number of chances, especially shots from Kieran Richardson who had a great game, but they were disappointingly powder-puff in attack, despite the fact that Blackburn had retreated deep into their own half, inviting the home team to come at them in numbers.
It looked like a disappointing afternoon for O’Neill until he brought on former Derry City starlet MacLean in the last 15 min., who tried a novel thing – running at the Rovers’ defence and putting crosses into the box.
The winger cleaned up Formica a couple of times before Vaughan picked up a rebound and bang, a left footed drive from distance that the crowd virtually sucked into the net, which bulged gratefully. Just 6 min. left to conjure up a winner, but the Lads somehow did...
The hard Formica was also involved in the second goal, when he handled the surface of the ball to give Larsson the chance to strike home…and he did so in style, hitting the base of Robinson’s right-hand post with an unstoppable free-kick. Crowd went wild etc., but could this really be the start of something big this season at Sunderland? We will see if the transformation continues at Spurs, when O'Neill will have had the chance to work a bit longer with the squad, shaping things his way.
“Very good my lad” in my best Swedish is “Jette bra, min poike” and, Yes, Seb, you are forgiven for your one bad game of the season at Wolves last week. Nobody cares about that now…we just want to finish ahead of Villa, and of course Newcastle.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen