All I can say, with 40000+ at the SSOL, a worldwide audience including the people in the pub where I saw this game, where Spurs fans were cheering Sunderland on, is WOW! This was a compelling, absorbing and astounding game of football. I suspect Martin O’Neill watched the tape from last campaign’s early season win over Manchester City and duplicated the tactics. Hopefully the whole squad saw that game again.
Sunderland were again severely hampered by injury and illness, which made this performance so much more immense. Turner, Campbell and Gordon were injured, then Westwood and Richardson reported in sick. Our Belgian keeper was forced back into duty with a Robocop-style mask on, in the following line-up: 22 Mignolet, 05 Brown (Kilgallon 26), 16 O'Shea, 06 Cattermole, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 15 Vaughan (Elmohamady 82), 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 52 Bendtner (Ji Dong-Won 78).
Man. City featured 25 Hart, 04 Kompany, 05 Zabaleta, 06 Lescott, 13 Kolarov (Richards 67), 11 Johnson, 18 Barry, 19 Nasri (Silva 55), 34 De Jong (Aguero 46), 42 Y. Toure, 10 Dzeko, and the subs bench was not bad either. Some of their players such as Balotelli and Silva were rested for this “easier” fixture.
Sunderland gave a away a lot of corners early on, and what appeared to be the best chance of the game fell to Bendtner early on; he raced clear but on retrospect, should have hit it early as Hart came out to make the block. Maybe it came too soon in the game for him, and the Sky commentator was a bit tough on him in my view, saying that is why his goalscoring stats do not stack up. The main thing was that the shot was set up by a superb Sessegnon pass, and these two are playing really well together, at least judging by the game I saw live at QPR.
Going back to our last win over City on August 29 last year, only Mignolet, Lee Cattermole and Elmohamady featured in both games. The game was similar in some ways, with a late winner, and a totally incandescent Mancini at the end, but that was won by a late Darren Bent penalty. Yesterday’s game was more intense, with Man. City showing great threat and approach work, but ironically not often testing Mignolet directly. They hit the woodwork twice, but surely a less anxious team would have made one or two of their chances count.
Make no mistake, this was a scratch Sunderland team with 2 rookie full-backs, a whole list pf players missing and then Brown limped off before the half-hour. He was replaced by Kilgallon, who O’Neill had brought in from the cold. After settling, he gave a great account of himself alongside O’Shea.
I am not the only person who felt this was a momentous performance by a team clearly galvanised by our new manager – for those who have not read them, I defer to the reports at http://soccernet.espn.go.com/report?id=318191&cc=5739 and at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/8987037/Sunderland-1-Manchester-City-0-match-report.html
But this was not just a backs to the wall performance from the Lads, there was a lot of skill and focus, and one could argue that the home team had the clearer chances from Bendtner early on and just after the interval, from Craig Gardner who came so close to the top corner just before half-time. Then the mercurial Sessegnon jinked through on the hour mark to fire just wide when it seemed easier to score.
What came through was the huge teamwork and indefatigable attitude of the Black Cats. From keeper to strikers there was not one bad performance, typified by MacLean;s debut…and the goal for 1-0 summarised the fighting performance, as well as the arrogance of the visiting team. Man. City had moved forward in numbers when Larsson emerged from the edge of the home box in acres of space, with few players bothering to track back in pursuit. He ran forward, then released the ball to MacLean, who approached the edge of the City box before releasing the ball to Ji Dong-Won, who found our superb playmaker Sessègnon. He moved the ball forward into the path of Ji, who dummied Hart and rounded him to bury the ball in the last serious action of the game.
The roar said it all, we are back, and fulfilling our potential with the self-belief, fight and conviction to make the most of our talent and teamwork. So just one defeat in 5 for Martin O’Neill, and if we win at Wigan tonight, we are in the top half of the table.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen