We have been credited once or twice this season with "gritty" wins in "difficult circumstances". Do we wish to have our team described with epithets like "committed", "hard to beat" or "determined" when playing the beautiful game? We are not Stoke City, but terms like this have been used recently in reports of Sunderland games, especially when we play the top teams.
In the last few months we have beaten Man City 1-0, Arsenal 2-0, and on Saturday we kept a clean sheet and brought home the bacon against highly-rated Liverpool. I would rather see us compete in games, show skill, and win rather than just roll over and die like we did a bit too often in much of 2011. Football is definitely the beautiful game, but it is somehow more beautiful when you win, even in what can be called "combative" fashion. Even the BBC suggested that "Liverpool's faltering league form continued as they were beaten by a determined and dogged Sunderland side".
Sunderland fielded 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 03 Bridge, 04 Turner, 16 O'Shea, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 23 McClean, 09 Campbell (Vaughan - 75'), 52 Bendtner (Wickham - 83'), and although we did not need any excuses on the day, we were obviously without the creative drive of Sessegnon, the craft of Cattermole, and Titus Bramble.
Liverpool came up to the true north of the country with 25 Reina, 03 Jose Enrique, 16 Coates, 34 Kelly, 37 Skrtel, 14 Henderson (Downing - 79'), 20 Spearing, 26 Adam (Carroll - 69'), 07 Suarez, 18 Kuyt, 39 Bellamy (Gerrard - 69').
The first half of this game was seen as “forgettable”, but it showed me that Liverpool were below par and lacking in confidence and we were “well-organised”, to quote another report. To be honest, after conceding 7 goals in 3 league games, I was just happy to see the defence looking solid and organised against an expensive and highly-rated visiting strike force.
Liverpool seemed to be lacking in confidence, and were far from the promise shown in their better performances this season. The Merseysiders failed to test Mignolet in the first 30 min, and their best moment in the first 45 came in stoppage time when Suarez’s run took him past two defenders to the by-line, but the Belgian keeper anticipated well, coming off his line to block his angled shot.
Sunderland started the second half brighter, and the team started looking more confident going forward, given the reassurance at the back in the dominant form of our defence with Wayne Bridge giving a good account of himself, despite Suarez’s trickiness. Bardsley, Turner and O'Shea were excellent throughout.
The frustration in Liverpool’s ranks visibly grew and Sunderland pushed forward, with Colback going close from distance with a left foot shot on 52 min. But the eventual match winner was not far away, Fraizer Campbell took a forward pass from the centre circle well, turned and managed to squeeze a shot past Reina from the edge of the box. The ball bounced off the post, hit the keeper, came back into play again and the in-form Bendtner was on hand to push to ball home athletically on the volley with his left foot.
Liverpool made predictable changes with Downing, Gerrard and Carroll coming on, but this was not their day, as Carroll missed the ball with Kuyt in attendance after a Gerrard cross. There was a late ugly injury to Bendtner's knee which must put him in doubt for the FA Cup game at Goodison next weekend.
We needed that win, which puts us ahead of the mid-table pack in 8th, just 2 points behind the visitors, who have now won just once in eight. My pre-match score prediction came true for once, and it was a rather grumpy and monosyllabic Dalglish who faced the cameras after the game. It will need a real run up to the end of the season to justify their summer spend, and that is looking unlikely with just 1 win in 8.
The Black Cats, despite the adjectives used to describe some aspects of our current game, are going from strength to strength, with no reason to lack confidence, despite injuries and suspension. Martin O'Neill was understandably chirpy at the end, his game plan had worked.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen