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Sunderland
June 17, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 06/17/2012

It’s been a while, and I suppose we are all still recovering in some way from the amazing last day of the Premiership season, despite the start of the Euros coming round in what seemed like no time at all.

I am long enough in the tooth to remember Manchester City’s last top-level title in 1968. I was very young, but that amazing final day also stuck in my memory, as Sunderland won 2-1 at Old Trafford and the Blues won 4-3 at a place that was then called St. James' Park, Newcastle. Such days really stick in the mind, when The Lads made sure that the title did not go to the Reds. We did not have such media intensity in those days, but it was still memorable.

March 30, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/30/2012

I don’t really want to dwell on the Everton FA Cup quarter final on Tuesday night. Everton arrived late for the game, and were more up for it than we were. They started the match a storm, and outplayed us, dominating in most areas. While we were 1-0 down there was still a chance of scoring against the run of play, but after the rush of blood to the head that Vaughan experienced in front of our goal when the ball was about to roll harmlessly wide, gifting the Toffees a second goal, there was no way back.

Not that we would not have deserved one anyway. Everton are a fine footballing side, and one can see why we have struggled against them in recent years – what is it now, 15 games since our last win? It shows what a creditable performance we put in at Goodison a couple of weeks back to earn this replay. The semi-final against Liverpool will be a good game for the neutrals.

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.

January 27, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/27/2012

Sunderland’s 2011 started really well, and then also ended on a high. I will try to explain some of the dross that was served up in between in the paragraphs below, but let me first take you back a year.

We entered January 2011 in 6th spot in the league, then in May finished the 2010-11 Premiership season in 10th, and actually also ended the year in 10th spot. So what was the problem? That all sounds fine and dandy, but some total junk was served up in between, with just 6 wins recorded in the best league in the world up from February 1st until Steve Bruce’s departure. The longsuffering home fans had to suffer most, and we went 9 games with just a single home win from early January 2011 until the end of the season.

December 9, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/09/2011

Even Roy Keane is "walking his dog" these days.

Call it firing, dismissal, being terminated, the end of the road, permanently suspended, being “in transition”, or in the case of Hull’s Phil Brown, who was famously put on “gardening leave”, the relationship between a manager and his club Chairman/CEO, fans and players will almost always come to an end either peaceably or acrimoniously. Normally the latter, so well done to SAFC CEO Ellis Short for keeping a lid on things during the departure of Steve Bruce. He is now "spending more time with the family" - to use another euphemism.

December 3, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/03/2011

Just as quickly as the axe fell on Steve Bruce, the management of Sunderland have taken decisive action, and made the move to bring on board an excellent new manager, who shares the fervour of the supporters in this most passionate of football areas. The Black Cats are a well run club with great support, excellent facilities and fantastic potential.

November 30, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/30/2011

On this week’s Radio 5 Live Monday Night Club, there was obviously a lot of speculation about Steve Bruce’s future, and BBC pundit Steve Claridge suggested that the Sunderland manager would have been sacked that same day, but out of respect for Gary Speed’s memory and legacy, he would be spared for a while. So on Wednesday the axe finally fell.

November 25, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/25/2011

There was not too much of note to report from the Sunderland vs. Fulham game last weekend when the Cottagers frustrated Sunderland at the SSOL. Obviously, as a fan I also felt frustrated by the two times Sunderland hit the bar through a Kieran Richardson header after 8 min. and an excellent shot by Jack Colback on the quarter hour, but Fulham also had their chances. Dembele tested Westwood early on and the Irish keeper had to grateful to Lee Cattermole who cleared off the line at the very end of the first half after an Etuhu header.

October 14, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/14/2011

A break, a bit of a light news week and the media are dredging up more stories about Steve Bruce, with Martin O'Neill supposedly waiting in the wings...

To be honest I do not really see what all the fuss is about. OK, we have not had a great start, and are close to the bargain basement of the Premier League, with 1 win in 7 games. Bruce has attracted some top-class players to the club, and nobody can say he is not committed to the cause. He has taken criticism on the chin, defended himself, and to be fair to him a 10th place finish last season was the club’s 3rd highest finish since 1955.

September 30, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/30/2011

So a thoroughly miserable week for Sunderland fans, a poor performance in the defeat at Norwich on Monday night, where the stars we signed over the summer underperformed, and then the team received news of further disruption, with the suspension of centre-back, Titus Bramble. The reliable defender, one of the club’s most consistent performers last season, has been suspended while sex assault and drug possession allegations are investigated, following a night out in Yarm, Teeside. The club released the following statement: “Sunderland AFC has confirmed that Titus Bramble has been suspended from duties pending the outcome of a club investigation. The player will not attend team training or be available for selection for matches during this period.”

September 15, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/15/2011

In a statement on Sunderland Football club's official website, Quinn said: "From the moment Asamoah returned for pre-season training we could tell that there were people trying to move him on. We hoped it would pass by, rebuking approaches from the Premier League, France and Turkey and felt the player would settle back down and continue to help our cause".

Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/15/2011

So long-suffering Sunderland fans have had to accept the loss of another striker. As if the departure of Darren Bent in January was not hard enough to take. All those break-up songs cannot hide the sense of betrayal.

We get used to these stars, believing naively that pulling on a Sunderland shirt, playing well, leading the line and scoring goals, means as much to them as it would do to us. I was in shock after reflecting on the defeat to Chelsea at the weekend, when our youngest son said Gyan had gone out on loan. The Daily Telegraph interprets this as a betrayal and I quote some of Luke Edwards’ excellent article below. But look a bit deeper and there may be more going on.

July 26, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 07/26/2011

Sunderland fans have a proud history, with 6 League Championships and 2 FA Cup wins behind us, maybe a bit too far behind us…but we also have a sense of humour! The “With all due respect to Wigan” line from my last entry came from a Monday Night Club discussion on Radio 5 Live and I for one found it quite humorous. And for all that Sunderland fans have had to endure at times, especially in terms of winless runs, we need a sense of humour! We like to joke with away fans, and when we travel to grounds that have limited capacity, the old “My Garden Shed” song comes out: “My garden shed, my garden shed, my garden shed, my garden shed, my garden shed is bigger than this, it's got a door and a window, my garden shed is bigger than this!” That song is sung as a joke, it is football banter, not to be taken literally and just like my last blog, it should be taken with a pinch of salt!

July 21, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 07/21/2011

How do we assess Sunderland’s new signings? Friendly games are always a poor guide, they are more about giving everyone a run-out, so it is all down to how the squad performs in the early part of the season. In the case of the Black Cats it is all about how the multitude of new signings gel together as a team and despite the club touring Germany and having had a run-out at York, it is the next serious game, which happens to be at Anfield, that really counts.

June 10, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 06/10/2011

With two major sales of player assets, Jordan Henderson and Darren Bent, we have what could rise to £44 million and although we grow attached to players that do the business on the pitch for the club week by week, season by season, we have got to face up to it: football is a business, and assets can be disposed of, so to speak.

What does the club do if it gets crazy bids for its players? We have heard this week that Premier League wages are £1.3 billion, so there are obviously some wild, poor odds gambles going on. I believe that Sunderland is a well-run club, and the owners, chairman, directors and manager know what is required to bring success.

February 18, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/18/2011

Sunderland Chairman and club legend Niall Quinn has been hitting the headlines with his thoughts about the local pubs in the Wearside area. These watering holes are making it easy for fans to skip games by illegally broadcasting Black Cats’ home games from hook-ups to foreign channels. Anyone who has a laptop and broadband can usually find a live feed of a game, admittedly of sometimes dubious quality, from many of the shadow online rebroadcasters of live Premier League football. To hook the laptop up to a TV is not complicated, but to broadcast like this in a public context is against the law.

January 31, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/31/2011

The Black Cats showed their determination to succeed at very the top of English football by making two excellent midfield signings with Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari joining on loan until the summer, and Benin playmaker Stephane Sessegnon arriving from PSG for a reported fee of € 7M, as reported on Soccernet.com. Muntari was a regular for Milan in their amazing treble season under The Special One last year, and will join Ghanain compatriots John Mensah and Asamoah Gyan at the Stadium of Light. The fans will be delighted that such acknowledged international talent has been attracted to the Stadium of Light, and I believe that our league position and the stability at the club have contributed to the increasing credibility of Sunderland as a force to compete at the very top of English football. Ambition is one thing, but having the wherewithal to execute a strategic plan and have the resources to propel the club into European competition is something else.

January 19, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/19/2011

Darren who? Oh, you mean our ex-striker...

I can't believe how well it's gone. If the offer of an extension came up I'd be more than happy to sign it. It's all about the football up here. It's all passion, passion, passion, but the supporters' intensity has never scared me. They are looking at me to get the goals and that is a massive confidence booster. Darren Bent, December 2010.

So money was not a factor in this move, says Darren Bent. Villa is a massive club, he asserts. With Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, there’s a fantastic supply line. It’s just up to me to work on my finishing and try to put the chances away…

One day we might find out the truth behind all this. But for now Sunderland just have to collect the money, and move on. £24M is a lot for player just 3 years off his 30th birthday, and this has been a shock for the fans. It all happened so quickly. Inevitably, we feel let down by someone who scored so many goals for us, but also a person whose career we got back on track.

November 26, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/26/2010

The shattering news that centre back Michael Turner has joined Titus Bramble on the long-term injury list, following his gutsy clearance off the line on Monday night against Everton, is a real threat to the good run currently experienced by Sunderland. A lot of the progress in the first third of the season has been built on a solid back four of Onuoha, Bramble, Turner and Bardsley. So how will Steve Bruce react? Well, the first thing to say is that we at least have a decent squad now, and Anton Ferdinand is capable of doing a sound defensive job for us. I am sure the back room staff is guiding John Mensah back to fitness as soon as humanly possible, with Paulo Da Silva also waiting to be called into action at short notice.

November 20, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/20/2010

The impact of the stunning 3-0 win at Chelsea will be felt for some time. There is no doubt that it will increase the expectations of Sunderland fans, but will also mean an overdue improvement in the away record of the Black Cats, which has been nothing to write home about under either Roy Keane or Steve Bruce, until now. The tactics on Sunday were well thought out and very well-executed, and the confidence the team has gained from this dismantling of the Blues will be seen in future games.

I was impressed by the refreshing honesty from Ancellotti, who said Chelsea deserved to lose. When did you last hear Arsene Wenger or Alex Ferguson say that? A Soccernet headline claimed that Sunderland produced one of the finest away performances in the history of the Premier League to hammer Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Nedum Onuoha, Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck scored - and it could have been more. Was it one of the finest?

November 12, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/12/2010

So although some of the headlines are about a 21-year old striker with a ponytail going missing from the England Under-21 squad, the real news is about a possible call-up for the home-grown Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson. He is very highly rated by his manager Steve Bruce (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/nov/11/jordan-henderson-england-call-up), is clearly very talented and has a great temperament. He has started every league game this season, and has really been excellent with his box-to-box movement, in just his second season in the first team.

October 25, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/25/2010

I am sure I speak for a lot of people when suggesting that I feel I have seen enough of the craggy face of Alex Ferguson this week. You could say the week ended well for the guy; Man. Utd. won at Stoke and Rooney is on a new 5-year contract. Too many lines have already been written about the talented striker who has been throwing the toys out of his pram to get what he wanted, a higher salary and a potential £100M investment of new players at the club.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with Sunderland? Well it goes back in part to the way he unsettled a very gifted French striker, David Bellion, who scored his first senior goal for the Black Cats against Aston Villa in September 2002, as related in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bellion). United won at the SSOL in October 2002, and Ferguson complimented Bellion after he had come on as a substitute.

October 11, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/11/2010

So with no games this week in the English Premiership, this fixture break gives a chance to reflect on the season so far. In the Premiership we have Chelsea in pole position, but they have not looked unassailable, possibly because they have not played any in-form teams, aside from Man. City at Eastlands. Arsenal played quite well last week at Stamford Bridge, but did not take their chances. As a caller to the Radio 5 606 phone-in said, there is a rectangular thing at the end of the pitch, where the ball is meant to go if you want to win games. Pretty approach work does not count in the end. Overall that game was an example of Chelsea’s power wearing Arsenal down, and the blues scoring two great goals, and impressing overall.

September 3, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/03/2010

I suggested a couple of weeks back in this blog that we need to trust the manager regarding our attack, and now Bruce has conjured up the signing of Ghana World Cup star Asamoah Gyan.

But £13.25 million is a lot of money for a striker who only scored 14 goals in 47 games for his previous club Rennes. We have seen players such as David Healy who excel for their national side while not really hacking it in the top league in the world, so let us hope that Gyan is different, age at least is on his side.

August 16, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/16/2010

A game clearly dominated by Sunderland, but which was decided by some odd refereeing decisions and four very strange goals. Steve Bruce was obviously disappointed with the referee, but he can be proud of the team, who dominated until running out of steam at the end. The defence has been strengthened and looked solid until the last 15 minutes, when Birmingham streamed forward against the Black Cats’ ten men. I was irritated by Cattermole’s petulance, as many doubtless were since the newly-appointed captain showed poor judgement with the second tackle on Bowyer.

August 11, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/11/2010

With the shock news today of Kenwyne Jones signing for Premiership Giants Stoke City, the squad is looking a bit thin at the front and back. OK, we have really bolstered the defence and midfield, but with Jones’ departure there is not much cover up front, with just Bent, Campbell and Waghorn as recognised strikers - David Healy has not made the expected impact. Following Craig Gordon’s injury, Trevor Carson is our most experienced keeper, while Mignolet finds his feet in the best league in the world. We can see why Bruce is trying to bring in some cover, and we have to give the manager the benefit of the doubt, with 3 weeks of the transfer window remaining. His signing of Darren Bent a year ago was a piece of absolute genius.

August 5, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/05/2010

The new squad rules for Premiership Clubs seem quite well thought out in my view since they encourage home-grown talent as well as youth. And generally, anything which Arsene Wenger disagrees with is usually fine with me, and to be honest, to most British football fans. I have been sad to see some of Wenger’s Arsenal teams without any English players at all. It is as if Wenger sees the proximity of London to the Channel Tunnel as its most important feature - the train to Paris from St. Pancras is now really close to the Emirates Stadium. The rules say that 8 of the 25 man squad to be named at the end of each transfer window have to be home-grown players. The good news for Sunderland fans is that our club with 12 players defined as home-grown, qualifies with ease.

July 26, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 07/26/2010

What do we love about The Beautiful Game? Personally, I enjoy the anticipation before each new season. Over the summer the holidays, the soothing sun and cooling rain gradually get us over the hurt and disappointments of the previous campaign, and we look to the new signings. The Black Cats have new arrivals, e.g. Cristian Riveros of Paraguay, who excited us in South Africa with some excellent performances for his home nation; Argentina full-back Marcos Angeleri, Titus Bramble, Belgian goalie Simon Mignolet and Egyptian defender Ahmed Al-Muhammadi. So our defence and midfield is bolstered, but we also look to players who are coming back from long-term injury, and many are itching for the return of cult legend, crowd favourite, folk singer and creative midfielder, Andy Reid.

June 2, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 06/02/2010

As my Facebook friend and fellow Black Cats fan John Ievers put it so succinctly: Darren Bent missed the cut for the final squad!!! My response to him was: Yes, that was sad to see, John, but it is down to two things: Sunderland is a long way from London, and secondly, England's playing style is with a target man. Although I could have seen Bent picking up the scraps…

There has been a lot of media coverage of Darren Bent since his exit from Spurs under unusual circumstances. He has shown though that he has the temperament to rise above all this and just be an outstanding footballer. He is obviously disappointed – see the reporting for example at SAFC.com: http://www.safc.com/news/20100601/bent-i-feel-really-disappointed_2256213_2063135

Bent had an amazing 2009-10 season, and not just here in the "blogosphere". Those 24 Premiership goals were in the real world slog of that league, week in and week out. But since half of it happened at a stadium several hundred miles from London, the media tend to underreport what went on, sensational though it was. This is an issue that has dogged Sunderland over the years, great players have been neglected by the FA. Luckily, Bent is still young enough to make the next World Cup.

Quoting from former Black Cat Chris Waddle on bbc.co.uk: Sunderland striker Bent was the third highest scorer in the 2009-10 Premier League season with 24 goals but has also missed out. And former England winger Chris Waddle admitted Bent's omission was understandable considering the way England play. "It's hard for Darren Bent," said Waddle. "He has got 23 goals and England always play with a target man so Rooney and Defoe are always ahead of Bent. Barring injury I never thought he'd be on the plane."

What would have given Bent a place on the plane to South Africa? First, a decision to go with 5 strikers; we know that Capello picked 4 because England have Lampard and Gerrard as outstanding scoring midfielders. Then perhaps a true recognition of Defoe’s record. He scored 18 goals last season, and 6 of those were during Wigan’s 9-goal collapse at White Hart Lane. OK, he has done well for England in the past, but he also has had the chances to shine. Thirdly, if Heskey had been dropped, as an essentially non-goalscoring striker, who is there to hold the ball up for others, such as Rooney?

In the end, it was Capello’s decision. He will live or die by what England achieve in the World Cup, and we wish England well, of course…but all Sunderland fans will wish the squad was different in one way.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 30, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/30/2010

The reporting on Sunderland AFC in the Newc***le-based newspapers The Journal and Evening Chronicle is always a bit negative, to say the least. It has to be, as most readers are fans of those deluded barcodes from across the Tyne. I went to school on foreign territory north of that particular river for 10 years, so I know what I am talking about. The Chronicle on http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/sport/sunderland-afc/safc-news/ did however report the new financial fair play rules quite well – see below.

I believe these new rules, if properly enforced, would bring some fiscal sanity back to football. The proposed changes mean that the current top six Premiership clubs would have to live within their means, and players’ salaries may end up being capped de facto. These major clubs would no longer be heavily subsidised by rich owners, leading hopefully to a more level playing field in the top league in the world. Well-run clubs like Arsenal clearly function by planning for the future, by bringing on Europe’s best youthful talent. Although this can frustrate the fans at times, the Gunners do well without the need for the mega-signings craved by other top clubs, but are still a major force. It will be teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle and the Manchester clubs that suffer.

In 2009-10 Sunderland lay 6th in average Premiership attendances, with an average of 40,355, just short of Chelsea’s total. The Black Cats already have their stadium designed for 64,000 fans with relatively inexpensive modifications at the SSOL. Although the turnstiles are less important as a fraction of total income in the modern game, in the end, teams with the best support and most loyal following in terms of buying club merchandise will prosper under this new financial paradigm. I would also look to Sky Sports to provide even more funding for top English clubs. So despite the pessimism in some quarters, I welcome these changes.

Well-run clubs like Sunderland, Everton, Stoke, Fulham and Arsenal have little to fear, and avoided the temptations to gamble away their futures in a way illustrated by basket cases like Portsmouth; we should remember that Steve Bruce sold Danny Collins and Dean Whitehead to help balance the books last summer. As reported by the Chronicle:

SUNDERLAND chief executive Steve Walton says football’s new financial fair play rules will be a big headache for ambitious Premier League sides – including the Black Cats.

Under new regulations agreed by European football’s governing body UEFA, by 2013 clubs must not spend more than they earn. Those that do could be banned from European competitions such as the Champions League and the Europa League. The amount of money that can be injected by ‘benefactor’ owners – such as Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich, Manchester City’s Sheikh Mansour, Aston Villa’s Randy Lerner and Sunderland’s own Ellis Short – will also be capped at £38m over three years, which will have an impact on clubs who rely on outside income. Sunderland posted a £26m loss last year as they signed players such as Darren Bent, Lee Cattermole, Fraizer Campbell and Lorik Cana, with the Black Cats’ American owner making up the shortfall.

European is football is still some way off for the Wearsiders, but Short, chairman Niall Quinn and manager Steve Bruce all believe the club has the potential to one day compete at that level.
Walton said: “The financial fair play rules represent the biggest challenge facing the bigger clubs in this country, but also clubs like ourselves that are trying to make a step change.
“At the moment, unless there is a change in the finances of many clubs, they will not be in a position to compete in European competition as they would not be able to comply with the financial regulations. Some clubs have run at huge losses because they have been supported by the money their owners have contributed. It is what Chelsea have done for years, it is what Manchester City’s model is based on at the moment and, to be fair, what Sunderland’s model is based on. Ellis Short is supporting the business to take us from yo-yo club to where we were last season, which was 13th, to establishing ourselves and hopefully thinking of having a crack at the Europa League.”

Football’s finances came under scrutiny last season after Portsmouth imploded with debts of £120m, in the process becoming the first Premier League club to go into administration. It is that kind of crisis that UEFA’s new rules – passed on Thursday – are designed to avoid.
Walton says the key is getting to grips with clubs’ spending on transfer fees and, even more importantly, wages. But he believes UEFA’s proposals will prove a tougher challenge for Premier League clubs than for those elsewhere in Europe, because the new 50% tax rate on earnings over £150,000 per year in the UK means clubs have to pay higher salaries than those in other countries where tax rates are lower.

Walton said: “It is all about trying to get restraint on outgoings. I was talking to someone in Europe and they have beneficial tax rates for high earners. If I was trying to buy a French player, for example, I have to pay him twice as much as he would be paid at home so he can get the same take-home pay because of our tax rates.”

So I say, bring on these changes as a way of returning financial discipline to our top football clubs. As long as we can rely on Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Panathanikos and Porto having sounder and more transparent finances than their respective southern-European national governments, I predict a brave new world of British domination in European Competitions...and judging by attendances, sound management and the ability to bring on young, home-grown talent, Sunderland should eventually be part of that pack.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 12, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/12/2010

Another quality international footballer has joined Sunderland. Cristian Riveros, a 27-year-old Paraguay international, has played for his country 45 times and will be part of the South American side at the World Cup in South Africa.

Steve Bruce, who so far has had an outstanding record on the transfer market, said "He is a very creative midfielder and a player that will enhance our attacking options". Although I have rattled on about the need for a thought-through defensive strategy in away games which includes having at least one defensive midfielder, supporters would not be unhappy with a midfielder à la Frank Lampard, who could help bear some of the scoring responsibility borne so brilliantly by Darren Bent last season.

Riveros may well free up players like Lee Cattermole and Lorik Cana to protect the back four, especially away from home, and will give them another passing option when setting up counterattacks. There is no doubt we have sorely missed Andy Reid in the second half of this season, he is skilful, committed and can unlock defences. The way Steve Bruce is thinking is surely to have two quality players for each position, to deal with inevitable injury crises - it was real low point in January when the Black Cats had 9 players out through injury and suspensions. We have often been a bit thin in midfield in 2009-10; see my May 6 blog on the latest midfield injury crisis.

I was a fan of Peter Reid’s stated policy 12 years ago of buying quality international players, it worked then and it can work now. Players such as Riveros have proven that they have the mental strength and application to stand out as excellent players at club level, and then to transpose these qualities to the international stage. There are plenty of players with skill, it is their discipline and how they apply themselves mentally that sets apart the true greats from the average footballer.

Goalkeeper Craig Gordon is a case in point, he has just had the metal plate in his arm removed which followed the cringing Defoe incident at Spurs, when the Scot's arm was broken. Despite that setback, and the knowledge that was playing with a “Terminator” arm, he was still fearless and disciplined in the last 3rd of the season, when he produced his best form for Sunderland. Gordon's winning mentality should be infectious, to drive the back four to excellence and the rest of the squad on to greater achievements.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 6, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/06/2010

Coincidentally, while I have been pontificating about Sunderland’s midfield tactics in away games, there has been an injury crisis brewing at the club, which if Sunderland had been a London club would have hit the headlines much more than it has. This has been a constant bugbear over the years, a Capital-centric England sees the Tyne and Wear metropolitan area as being on a different planet sometimes, no wonder the NE clubs so rarely have players called up into England squads. More on that topic later, but for now that midfield is our focus.

David Meyler’s horrific injury on Sunday has put him out for up to a year – the knee is such a complex set of joints…we will miss the young Irishman’s energy and drive; all genuine fans wish him a speedy recovery. Lee Cattermole is out again, we also have Andy Reid as a long-term injury, and with Henderson potentially unfit for the game this weekend, the squad is looking a bit thin again. Cana, Malbranque, Richardson and Campbell will probably start against Wolves. It may seem like a nothing game, but after Stoke’s win at Fulham last night, we can still qualify for that 10th place, for the status as well as the extra Premiership prize money it brings.

The Premiership is made up of 3 mini-leagues. The top eight have all been scrambling for that coveted 4th spot and is currently made up of the two teams each from Liverpool and Manchester; Aston Villa and the three top London teams. Our mini-league consists of teams we now see as peers, Blackburn, Stoke, Fulham and the season’s surprise package, Birmingham. Alex Mc. Leish was previously linked with the Sunderland job and now we can all see why. Next year the Mackems need to win that league, if we are going to push on for Europa League qualification in the future.

But back to this weekend - if Bruce decides to shuffle the pack a bit, will this mean a much deserved first league start for Zenden? I hope so, after his sensational goal against Spurs, he deserves it…that memorable, high energy 3-1 win a month ago has now been put into its rightful context by Spurs’ win at Man. City last night, and their Champions’ League qualification.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

April 30, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/30/2010

Some say that mid-table obscurity is what a team has if there is nothing to play for at the end of the season. Well, I am happy to swap the “excitement” of the last 2 seasons, both spent flirting with relegation, with what has ended up with comfortable mid-table position in the best league in the world. We can still make 9th by catching this season’s surprise package Birmngham City.

That dire 14 game winter winless run showed that Sunderland, despite record transfer spending, could still fall foul to injuries and low morale. Playing 17 different back fours in a season tells its own story, but on the bright side, having up to 9 players out for some of those games at least gave an opportunity for Henderson and Meyler to shine, and show that Bruce is planning for the future. Great news that both these young lads have signed 5-year contracts!

This week the Black Cats have loaned out Marton Fulop to Man City, to help with their keeper crisis, after Shay Given was seriously injured at Arsenal last Sunday. That shows what a fair and decent manager Steve Bruce is. Most ex-Man. Utd. players would not even breathe in the direction of Man. City (with the notable exceptions of Denis Law and Carlos Tevez!). Ironically, Given showed what a great keeper he was when on loan with Sunderland from Blackburn in 1996 under Peter Reid.

This week also saw Darren Bent crowned the fans’ Player of the Year – so well deserved for an incredible season of sharp and consistent finishing – the guy is a legend already, and only 26! He can now look back at that Spurs Twitter and Rednapp’s insults with an ironic laugh.

I will preview Sunday’s sure sell-out against Man. United in my next blog, and given Sunderland’s record against the top teams at the SSOL this season, an upset may well be on the cards.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

February 16, 2009

I can never bring myself to watch the FA Cup when Sunderland has been knocked out. In recent years, this has meant I've lost interest in the competition before it gets to February due to our awful recent record.

This doesn't mean I don't care about the competition. Far from it. In fact, it's the complete opposite. The FA Cup is the greatest club competition in the world and has provided me with some wonderful memories.

However, in recent years clubs have refused to give the FA Cup the respect it deserves and I include Sunderland as one of them.

February 9, 2009

Season ticket prices have been reduced to as low as £1 per game by Sunderland Chairman, Niall Quinn, in an effort to beat the credit crunch and create a new generation of Black Cats fans.

Prices for an under-16's season ticket at the Stadium of Light next season will be an unbelievable £19. Adults' season tickets will be available from £350 and all season tickets will be reduced by at least £30 - a move that has been hailed by fans and confirmed Quinn's legendary status on Wearside.

The city of Sunderland has not escaped the financial troubles affecting Britain and, in a part of the country that lives for their football, it is excellent news for families wanting to follow their team at a price they can afford.

About
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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