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February 25, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/25/2012

We all know them, they have to be handled carefully, they are the male equivalents of prima donnas, often have big egos and I am sure they need their distilled water drink at just the right temperature before the game. They want the ball to feet, and generally need to be the centre of attention. They are those players we love, because they put the ball in the net, but in opposition teams, love to jeer and hate – Strikers!

The Black Cats have had a few - Billy Hughes, Gary Rowell and Marco Gabbiadini…Kevin Phillips was superb for us but down to earth, not a prima donna in my view. I was speaking to a fellow Sunderland fan a while back about what Billy Hughes, the hero of the 1973 FA Cup Run about what Hughes is doing these days, and he said "I know where he is now" - meaning the pub...

February 24, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/24/2012

In a week when Sunderland are on a high after beating Arsenal in the 5th round of the FA Cup, Sunderland fans received the news that the club’s hero, former Chairman and the man who in some people’s eyes has been the modern saviour of the club. Sunderland Football Club was formed in 1879, and has had some glory years, with 6 league championships, but for current fans Niall Quinn has epitomised the renaissance of the modern Black Cats. From 1996 until now he has been a major part of what we have been about, and I will always remember the Stadium of Light era with Niall Quinn either on the pitch or close by, watching in the stand.

He used his skills of persuasion to orchestrate the club’s takeover by the Drumaville consortium, and brought in Roy Keane who ensured our last promotion and established the club in the Premiership. Steve Bruce continued the rise of the club, with the occasional hiccup, and the appointment of Martin O’Neill as manager in December was an absolute master stroke.

This is why Niall can move on and focus on other business interests, and “spend more time with his family”. He has been at almost every Sunderland match in recent years, which must put a strain on family relationships, and I am not going to speculate about why he is leaving the club now, without much of a fanfare. But the Cats are now on an excellent upward path, with a great squad, a lot of young talent and superb recent form.

February 20, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/20/2012

Sunderland welcomed back our talismanic captain, Lee Cattermole against Arsenal – we have been missing the “ball-winning midfielder” with his uncompromising tacking recently. I was checking his playing record recently and he has now had 65 bookings and 5 red cards in 191 league and cup appearances, and that includes 5 yellow cards in 16 FA Cup appearances, including yesterday. He is still only 23, but the main thing is that he is a talented footballer, and capable of turning in stunning performances, and he was recently compared to Scott Parker by the great Charlie Nicholas. Put it this way, I would much rather have Cattermole him playing for us than against us.

Fraiser Campbell moved to the bench, so we started with McLean and Sessegnon up front in the following team: 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 04 Turner, 11 Richardson, 16 O'Shea, 06 Cattermole, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon (Campbell - 88')

The North Londoners brought 21 Fabianski, 03 Sagna, 5 Vermaelen, 20 Djourou, 08 Arteta, 15 Oxlade-Chamberlain, 16 Ramsey (Walcott - 53'), 17 Song, 39 Coquelin (Squillaci - 10'), 10 Van Persie, 27 Gervinho.

February 17, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/17/2012

Yes, we could beat Newc**tle at Sid James', or whatever that stadium is called these days, but to be realistic, tomorrow's game against Arsenal is the key to our season, as well as theirs.

In my last blog I praised Arsene Wenger, but looking at Arsenal’s abject surrender in midweek in the Champions’ League, it makes me wonder if his model really works, because the Londoners have lost a lot of good players in sales, and to be honest, in that midweek game Arsenal were lacking depth in defence, midfield and attack. Why didn't Wenger just go out and buy a defence in the summer? I am sure that would have made Robin VP a lot happier about his prospects of winning something.

February 14, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/14/2012

It's the word "offensive" ... which used to mean swearing at people in a loud voice, generally being rude or throwing inappropriate stuff at people. Arsene Wenger came to the UK to manage Arsenal in 1996 and has been a success…in persuading us to change the way we speak. He started using the word "offensive play" to describe attacking football.

And this weekend I heard Alan Pardew saying after Newcastle's 0-5 defeat to Spurs that he should have set up his side to be less "offensive". OK, he is not a Geordie, and therefore not naturally offensive, unlike the people I had to go to school with north of the Tyne…only joking, my old school friends (!)

So a Frenchman has changed the way we speak on our "Sceptred Isle". He has also shown that one can run a football club without getting out the chequebook twice a year. He acquires young players, they learn to do things his way, and then he gradually bloods them in the Premiership. He has never finished below 4th in the league, and this win propelled his team back into that position, after a mediocre season by his high standards.

February 11, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/11/2012

Tomorrow’s game against Arsenal at the SSOL is another major test for the Black Cats, and provides an objective measure of their momentum and progress, as well as the worthiness of this team to be feasting at the top table of English football so soon after a managerial change.

February 8, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/08/2012

If Sunderland were not on such a great run of 3 wins in the Premiership, we would be seen as injury-hit and suffering badly from those misfortunes. We have captain Lee Cattermole, Nicklas Bendtner, Wes Brown, David Vaughan, Matt Kilgallon as well as Titus Bramble all injured, and nobody bothers to mention our number 1 keeper Craig Gordon any more, he has been out so long. The Scot is an outstanding goalkeeper. The Mackems’ loan signings Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos are both ineligible.

My blog title takes us back 20 years when some travelling Sunderland fans used to wear gasmasks for the perceived smog on Teesside. The place is now very different, but somehow these images persist in the mind.

Despite injuries, for Sunderland the best team may be out there and such is the quality of our squad that we must be favourites for tonight. We can welcome back a fresh and razor-sharp Fraizer Campbell. Clearly, Boro’ are not on a good run, and we are playing well away from home, where Sessègnon, Campbell and McLean’s speed on the break can be used to full effect...but make no mistake, the Teessiders will be up for this.

February 5, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/05/2012

All the talk has recently been about Fraizer Campbell's comeback, with two great goals at the Stadium of Light, but this game showed that James McLean is making a strong case not to be overshadowed - he made another massive contribution to the rise of this club and to this 1-0 win over Stoke.

Martin O'Neill had called for continued focus ahead of this game, and he was pleased at the end. Sunderland adapted very well to the snowy conditions.

February 4, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/04/2012

Stoke away is always a difficult game, our 3-2 defeat there against the run of play this time last year set us off on a difficult run which ended up taking us near to the relegation zone before we pulled up to 10th spot. Things are very different at the club now, thanks to the influence of Martin O'Neill, with 6 wins from the last 9, and a real momentum appearing which took us above Stoke City in the Premiership table in midweek.

Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/04/2012

This has been the week when Sunderland fans could celebrate the return of Fraizer Campbell. He was on a good run of scoring when a cruel knee injury intervened in his incipient rise to Premiership superstar status. A friend of mine who is a Hull fan wishes that he rots in hell for walking out on his club, but as a Sunderland fan I am very pleased he was tempted to Wearside to pick up his striking career.

For last Sunday’s FA Cup 4th round vs. Boro’ the Black Cats featured 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 05 Brown (Turner - 60'), 11 Richardson, 16 O'Shea, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 15 Vaughan (Colback - 80'), 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 10 Wickham (Campbell - 46' ). As I mentioned in my preview, this game was not a formality, and Middlesborough soon showed how well they had prepared tactically for this match-up. They were combative in midfield, and showed a fearless attitude throughout. On this display, one would back them for promotion.

Lars Knutsen Lars Knutsen was born in Sunderland of Norwegian parents across the Wear from the SSOL back when shipbuilding not car manufacture was the city’s main industry. His first game was in 1968 and he has followed the Black Cats since then, with great memories of the 1973 FA Cup. He hopes the “yo-yo” days are over and defines supporting a team by whether the result affects your mood (but maybe not in the way portrayed in the book “Fever Pitch”!) so has been cheerful recently. He endured school in Newc**tle, has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, a Professorship at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, and works in the Pharma industry as a consultant Medicinal Chemist.

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