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Sunderland
May 13, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/13/2012

Tomorrow is a huge day for the Premiership in what has been a very exciting season. To have the title decided on the last day is always something special. It is all just about over in the Blues' favour.

Let me first say that I much prefer Man. City to Man. Utd. City to me are just nicer, they have style, and when they lose, they lose with grace. Their rise to the top has been momentous. Their rivals have won too much, and Ferguson is of course talented but arrogant. How, you may ask, has this affected Sunderland? Well in my memory 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). After a game United won at the SSOL in October 2002, Ferguson complimented Bellion after he had come on as a substitute.

Following that Bellion completely lost interest in playing for the Black Cats, and went AWOL to France at a time when the team needed him most. Upon returning, Bellion claimed he had been visiting his sick grandmother, and made himself temporarily unavailable for selection, claiming he was "mentally unfit" to be playing in a relegation battle. At the time, speculation was rife that the Frenchman had been "tapped up" by United, and sure enough he agreed a move to the "Red Devils" after his contract expired in June 2003. Luckily, Bellion was under the age of 23, and Sunderland was eligible for compensation, the clubs eventually agreeing a fee of £2 million out of court. Even former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein claimed Bellion had been offered to Arsenal by his agent illegally and that United had been paying for Bellion's mobile phone bills whilst still at Sunderland.

You could fault the star-struck player for never really seriously kicking a ball again for Sunderland, but I put the blame firmly at the door of Alex Ferguson, who unsettled a talent that Sunderland had unearthed, and the Scotsman essentially transformed him into an ineffective wreck, in a season when the Black Cats just avoided relegation. These sleaze-ball tactics have made him less popular than such a hugely successful manager should be.

April 28, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/28/2012

The result of today’s game will depend on 3 factors: who wants it more, which Sunderland team shows up, the one that demolished QPR and almost won at Man. City and how the new midfield functions for the Black Cats.

Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill will be without several key players. Midfielder Craig Gardner is suspended following his sending-off at Aston Villa, while Kieran Richardson and Sebastian Larsson both went under the knife this week for hernias and miss the rest of the season. Skipper Lee Cattermole could return to the midfield, after battling a persistent knee problem; he is subject to a late fitness test. We still of course have defenders Brown and Bramble missing.

April 21, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/21/2012

The big question for Saturday is: will Sunderland pull themselves out of their collective funk and win at Aston Villa? Craig Gardner and manager Martin O’Neill both have incentives to impress against their old club – and so does Phil Bardsley, who had 13 games with them under O’Neill in a loan deal when the Scottish International was at Man. Utd.
Sunderland are likely to be without our talismanic captain Lee Cattermole, but on the positive side John O'Shea may return to the team for the first time in a month, with Matt Kilgallon possibly making way for the Irish defender.

Apparently our chairman and owner Ellis Short has set manager Martin O'Neill the target of a top-6 finish in the Premier League next season. This will require some investment, especially in our strike force, but it does not sound too crazy when one considers we just had 2 wins up to the Northern Irishman’s arrival in December.

April 14, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/14/2012

We need a lift after 3 games without a win. Tough games against top teams, but after the heights of scoring 3 goals and almost holding on for an amazing win at Man. City, we played well but drew a blank against Spurs, and had a thoroughly miserable day at Everton when we almost blew our positive goal difference. OK, I had one commenter who said I was stating the blindingly obvious, but this is my blog and I blog what I feel – and as a team we definitely need a pick-up.

April 7, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/07/2012

Sunderland’s cross-Tyne neighbours put Spurs under pressure to perform at the SSOL by winning at Swansea, who were the North Londoners’ victims last week in what has become a 3-match losing run for the Welsh newcomers to the top League.

Richardson may be back for Sunderland – he always seems to play well against Spurs. What will Martin O’Neill decide to do with the side that played so well last week? Why change a team that came away with a point from the Etihad for the first time since February 2011.

Bridge could also return, but Colback did well in his place last time out. Cattermole will face a late test on his knee. Our injury list is just Angeleri (knee), Bramble (Achilles), Brown (knee), Westwood (hand), O'Shea (calf).

Spurs are missing Gomes (knee), Dawson (ankle), Bentley (knee), Jenas (Achilles), Huddlestone (ankle). Ledley King (knee) and Aaron Lennon (hamstring) may still feature.

March 27, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/27/2012

I have a sneaking feeling that Niklas Bendtner, our Danish masked raider who has scored 3 in 4 games, will play a key role alongside Sessegnon in tomorrow’s game, which is the biggest match for many years: the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Everton at the Stadium of Light. The City has been caught up in FA Cup fever, and there is an expectation of a sell-out tomorrow, with captain Lee Cattermole returning to the line-up.

I have no doubt that Martin O’Neill will have a well-worked out game plan, and we will compete, being on a great run at the SSOL, having completed an excellent demolition of QPR on Saturday. Sunderland and Everton are two evenly-matched sides, who have played out two 1-1 draws so far this season.

March 24, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/24/2012

This game against Rangers is hard to call. QPR have been playing like a bunch of misfits recently, and even did so for 77 minutes of Wednesday evening. But finding themselves 2-0 down at home to Liverpool they threw caution to the wind and managed an amazing comeback for a 3-2 win, with no little skill.

Sessegnon is now available again and will doubtless return for the home side. The Black Cats have taken 16 points from a possible 21 under O'Neill at the Stadium of Light - only dropping points in the draw with Everton and defeat against Arsenal, who we beat the following week in the FA Cup.

March 17, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/17/2012

Tomorrow’s game brings a raised level of excitement to all Sunderland fans, especially those who remember previous Cup runs, including the most memorable one of 1973 which ended in an amazing victory against the odds. I was young at the time, but that was an incredibly special time.

I also recall a terrific win against Everton in the Premiership;s 1996-7 season, when the young Michael Bridges came on for Craig Russell when the game was pretty even at 1-1. He scored twice late on to send the travelling fans home with an excellent 3-1 win. Peter Reid gave Bridges a new contract the following week, but although the talented striker failed to realise his potential in an injury-affected career, he definitely made an impression that day.

March 10, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/10/2012

As a result of last weekend’s efforts against Ne****tle, we have 2 of our major stars missing. Sessegnon and Cattermole got stuck in last weekend, and obviously suffered for it – but the fans surely appreciated their commitment - we have not seen that side of Sess before. I am against violence on the pitch, and both of them will miss the FA Cup quarter-final trip to Everton, but of more immediate concern is the important league game against Liverpool tomorrow.

March 3, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/03/2012

Who cares about the Manchester derby, Spurs vs. Arsenal or whatever, this is a huge game, and the North East media have been finding new angles for this clash.

Obviously the Black Cats want to win, badly, and it is the biggest away game of the season, but we are on a bad run in Tyne-Wear derbies, with only 1 win in the last 14, courtesy of Richardson’s free kick a couple of years ago at the SSOL. The supporters' memories are long and we will never forget those two 2-1 wins at St. James’ under Peter Reid in 1999 and 2000, but Sunderland lost this season's first encounter against Newcastle by a single goal at the Stadium of Light back in August.

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 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 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 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.

January 29, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/29/2012

So tomorrow the Boro’ fans have to make an early start on Sunday morning and several thousand of them will make the trip to the Stadium of Light. This their biggest Derby game and I for one hope to see our southern neighbours back in the Premiership soon.

I loved the BBC write-up for this game: This is only the fifth time they have been drawn to meet in the FA Cup. Sunderland have progressed three times, and Middlesbrough once. The most recent was a 3-1 win by the Teesside club in the fourth round in January 1975 at Ayresome Park. Maths GCSE anybody?

January 8, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/08/2012

For today’s challenging game at Peterborough United Sunderland will likely miss out on the help of defenders Wes Brown (groin), Titus Bramble (Achilles/calf) and Phil Bardsley (thigh) who are all doubtful as the team chases its third successive win. Aside from long-term casualties Craig Gordon and Fraizer Campbell, 3rd choice keeper Keiren Westwood, Jack Colback (ankle), Connor Wickham (knee) and midfielder Sebastian Larsson are out. Look for O'Neill to include young players such as Meyler and MacLean.

December 18, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/18/2011

Sunderland do not have a great record against Spurs at White Hart Lane, with just only one win in 20 visits since 1978 - but we have drawn there a lot, including last season, when Gyan starred in a gutsy 1-1 draw. 2 seasons ago we were robbed after a dubious penalty, and under Roy Keane we won there 2-1, after a terrific Kieran Richardson strike.

This is clutching at straws, but we won there 2-1 in the Milk (League) Cup in 1983 when Clive Walker starred, and I also recall a great late 1960s victory, 1-0 after a terrific own goal by Mike England...who else remembers the Welsh centre-back?

November 18, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/18/2011

Many analyses of the Premiership, including my own, show around 3 mini-leagues; one at the top for the Champion’s League slots, a white underbelly of teams in the middle of the table who are not quite in the top echelon, and the bottom 6-8 teams fighting relegation. The lower 3rd is where Sunderland find themselves at the moment; after what has been called a “mixed” start to the season – 2 wins and 4 draws in 11 tell its own story of what might have been. OK, we are not the only ambitious team which is suffering – Everton are there also, but it still feels uncomfortable.

November 5, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/05/2011

I remember the last league win at Old Trafford really clearly – I was very young and had recently been to my first Sunderland home game, by cycling to Roker Park. The climax of the 1967-8 season was upon us and Sunderland were clear of relegation, having won 4 times and drawn 4 on their travels, and got the points in 8 home games – the team were on 45 points in the modern, 3-points for a win parlance. The magic of that day on my young consciousness was also that Man. City were at Newcastle. Sunderland were expected just to roll over and let Man. Utd. just win the league, since Best, Charlton and Law were in that great team, with Man. City expected to be runners-up. Well, Sunderland stunned the Reds in a 2-1 win, with goals from Colin Suggett and George Mulhall – Hurley, Todd, Stuckey and Porterfield also starred that day. I was of course hooked as a fan, seeing the game in black and white later on Match of the Day – see the YouTube footage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmBEECo85yY

September 26, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/26/2011

For my background on Steve Bruce and Man. Utd., I have read both Roy Keane’s autobiography and the excellent book “The Boss” about Alex Ferguson. It is clear in those books that Steve Bruce and some of the other senior players were the “untouchables” at Man. Yoo, they were allowed to get away with a lot in terms of “bonding” sessions, which invariably revolved around alcohol.

The England rugby squad may have been criticised for a some of their night outs in New Zealand, but Steve Bruce obviously feels that these old-fashioned bonding sessions still have a useful part to play in professional sport. Sunderland signed 11 new players over the summer and the manager probably felt that they needed the sort of night out he enjoyed when he was captain at Manchester United almost 20 years ago.

September 17, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/17/2011

This weekend, Sunderland need to get back to the script; enough of egos and the future of star strikers, and back to playing good attacking football, beating down the opposition at the Stadium of Light and keeping the fans happy.

There is no way a team with all the talent at Sunderland’s disposal will struggle if we stay clear of injuries, keep a stable defensive line-up and start scoring goals again. I would like to see Michael Turner returning, his heading power will be great agains the Potters. Steve Bruce has suggested that our £8M summer signing Connor Wickham will be given a chance alongside Bendtner. At 6ft 3in, Wickham has the height and the physique to compete with Stoke’s tall players, and the former Ipswich man playing alongside 6ft 5in Bendtner would provide a real aerial threat for the home side in this game.

September 10, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/10/2011

The Black Cats’ last game yielded a point at newly-promoted Swansea with the home team still full of beans after their promotion, and that was not a bad result on the face of it. That is the headline view, but what was going on behind the scenes?

I felt Asamoah Gyan looking a bit selfish at times when approaching goal, was he a bit too desperate to get on the score sheet? This was especially towards the end of the game when Connor Wickham would surely have converted from a simple sideways pass when Gyan decided to shoot on goal himself. He has looked this season as if he has other things on his mind, despite all his utterances to the contrary. It must be unsettling when top clubs show interest, but this is the name of the game for a successful footballer in the world's top league.

August 27, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/27/2011

A miserable week then for Sunderland fans – games which we would feel we could have won, but we lost both 1-0. Games in which we had the chances to score, and at home against Newcastle the Black Cats dominated the first half, without really having the conviction to notch that vital goal or two. In the end Newcastle proved themselves to be a compact outfit, and what for them was a must-win game was surrendered by the home team.

August 19, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/19/2011

Sunderland look well-equipped to bring home the bacon in Saturday’s exciting derby. Steve Bruce’s team selection will be anybody’s guess, but I don’t see the need for major changes given last weekend’s excellent showing at Liverpool.

Derby games are not about logic and well-reasoned arguments, in fact football never is. Saturday is about raw emotion, and a neat analysis of the potential line-ups does not seem to hit the spot somehow.

August 11, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/11/2011

How does one preview the first game when there has been close to a 50% squad turnover in the close season? It is nigh on impossible, but the core, the backbone of the team has remained unchanged in many ways. We will have Gyan as the main predator, Sessegnon picking up the pieces, Cattermole tapping at everyone’s heels and a Bramble/Turner centre back pairing, and after looking at the recently-revealed squad numbers, Craig Gordon between the sticks, provided he stays fit.

It appears that John O'Shea will not feature (hamstring), but look for Wes Brown at right back, and he will be motivated against the red half of Merseyside. But since we do not know Bruce's best team, aside from the back four, I will not guess the complete line-up

May 19, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/19/2011

Playing West Ham at Upton Park is never an easy prospect, as many teams have found to their cost over the years, and it is an interesting question on the subject of whether now being a relegated team will help or hinder their performance. It all really depends on whether the relationship between Avram Grant and the players was, or indeed is strong enough for them to feel the humiliation that he went through last week. PTSD would be quite understandable given the events at the JJB last week.

I fail to understand why the vindictive sacking of Grant took place at an away ground, especially after West Ham were 2-0 up against Wigan last week. That game could have gone either way, and had Robbie Keane been able since January to emulate any of the amazing form of Demba Ba, and showed any of the expert finishing he is known for, there could have been a very different end of season story in East London. But when your chairman and chief executive are perceived to have made their fortunes by exploiting women, one cannot exactly be looking to the board for moral guidance. And predictably, Soccernet is now reporting that Karen Brady is pinning all the blame on Grant - http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story/_/id/921331/brady-pins-blame-on-grant-for-hammers-relegation?cc=5739 - to be honest, there is plenty of blame to go around, with so many underperforming stars this season. I recall all the blame for all West Ham's woes being dumped on Harry Rednapp when he departed the club - and things have turned out well for him!

May 7, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/07/2011

To be honest, this week I felt unmotivated to write about the unmitigated catastrophe that was Sunderland’s home game against the Cottagers on April 30. I feel like writing this update in the third person rather than the usual “us” and “we” report, so disconnected was the fan base to this performance, judging by the mass walkout from the SSOL at the end of the game – we can only take so much. I know that we have a injury list from “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Friday the 13th” with bodies lined up in the treatment room rather than the morgue, and there will be an inquiry held by the CEO downwards at the club to find out went wrong this season, but this performance was unacceptable. There were two firsts in this game, Fulham’s first away win of 2011 and a first club goal from Kakuta in the 33rd minute after he was allowed to waltz through the home defence.

April 29, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/29/2011

For those who like me who spend a lot of time in the US and follow many Premiership games on Fox Soccer channel, it is frustrating to hear the colonial commentators, who just do not cannot hack the proper football terminology. Calling a draw a “tie”, a penalty kick a “PK” and describing a shot onto the bar as “hitting the frame” does just not do it for me or any other Expat Brits watching “soccer”. Fox is a Sky Sports feed so why don’t they just listen to the English commentators and learn about the game we invented and gave to the world?! End of rant – for now...

April 9, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/09/2011

Today’s match-up against West Bromwich Albion is another opportunity then for the battered Sunderland players to turn things around. One point from the last 21 tells its own story, and injuries have been a big factor. A win would be great for morale, to end this miserable losing streak, but since Roy Hodgson started applying his managerial experience to this week’s opponents they have proved “hard to beat”. A win for West Brom. would give them a double over the Black Cats; that disappointing early 0-1 reverse at the Hawthorns was the Cats’ first defeat of the season.

April 2, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/02/2011

The clash with City is a difficult game, with Sunderland on a terrible run at the moment. Bad runs happen to all teams once in a season, but this is a particularly torrid time for Black Cats fans. The question is, do we want games to come up quickly in succession, or do we prefer a break between games so that the team can try to get their act together? We have no choice, of course, but I for one hope the team are in better shape psychologically now that they have licked their wounds and key players like Campbell and Turner are back in contention after long-term injuries.

March 16, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/16/2011

The striker moves in the last transfer window were incredible, and dominated by Sunderland and Liverpool’s deals. The Reds, though, sold an out of form striker for £50M! On retrospect the signing of Suarez and Carroll were complete genius by Kenny Dalglish, with the Uruguayan showing amazing control to set up Kuyt’s first against Man Utd.

We will see them in action again on Sunday lunchtime at the SSOL of course, and that will be another fascinating contest, which Chairman Niall Quinn confirms is a total sell-out. If the Stadium of Light is ever to be expanded to 64000, as originally designed, we have to fill it for games like this one. We really look forward to seeing Danny Welbeck back in action with Gyan at home.

March 5, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/05/2011

Sunderland have a great record in London this season, with that total dismemberment of the then in-form Chelsea, as well as draws at Spurs and Fulham. What are their chances on Saturday at the Emirates? If they can emulate Birmingham's storming performance from last weekend, they are good. The Gunners' Midlands adversaries in the League Cup Final were fearless, passionate and deserved their last gasp win at Wembley. I am pleased to say I was there the last two times Sunderland won at Arsenal. On Guy Fawkes’ Night 1983, I took a very special person to the game, and Sunderland scored twice through Ian Atkins and Colin West. There were only 26,000 at Highbury, the Red and White Army were standing and the second goal went in just after half-time. Beer sloshed everywhere as the assembled Mackems celebrated! How things have changed now when watching top-flight football!

February 25, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/25/2011

Every one admires what David “Gollum” Moyes has achieved at Everton, on a tight budget and by playing good football. To quote erstwhile Black Cats manager Roy Keane, they are a ‘proper football club”. And what did he mean by that? To me he was saying that they are rôle models for teams like Sunderland, who have perhaps taken over their mantle this season. They manage to not just stay in the top flight, but generally to excel. They have however been blowing hot and cold in 2010-11, currently in 14th spot, just 3 points above the relegation zone, and Moyes was particularly scathing after the recent defeat at Bolton. This perhaps inspired the excellent FA Cup display at Chelsea this week, when a superb Baines fee kick at the end of extra time forced penalties, and the Blues were eliminated on spot-kicks.

February 4, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/04/2011

With the Chelsea revenge mission out of the way, we can now focus on Stoke in tomorrow’s early match up at the Britannia Stadium. I will not over-analyse what happened at the SSOL on Tuesday; it was a terrific game for neutral observers, and the Black Cats played a full part in an excellent spectacle against the expensively-assembled visiting team, who have rediscovered the confidence which deserted them after the 0-3 setback at the Bridge. Plus points: Goal machine Phil Bardsley, Sessegnon's debut and Kieran Richardson chipping in with a goal again. The negatives: an uncharacteristic hesitancy in defence, with 4 goals conceded at home for the first time since Man. Utd. on Boxing Day 2007, and a crowd of “just” 37,855. The take home message is that we need Mensah and Turner available for selection and Cattermole doing what he does best, protecting the back line, as soon as humanly possible – the latter two starred at Stamford Bridge in October. News of the young skipper’s continued absence for another month is a blow.

January 28, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/28/2011

OK, this high-profile return fixture with Chelsea is a really huge game and Steve Bruce, as quoted on SAFC.com, wants the fans to show up in great numbers at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday. But when you are in the top 6 of the best league in the world, every game is huge. And as we have come to understand as the season has progressed, there are no easy games in the Premiership this year. The bar has been raised significantly as each team made really good preparations for this campaign, and now, with all due respect to Wigan, clubs near the bottom have made some excellent signings to avoid the ultimate horror of relegation. Currently there is a www.bottom3 with Wigan, Wolves and West Ham featuring, but the 18th club is just 10 points behind Liverpool in 7th spot, but that will surely change.

January 16, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/16/2011

One thing that has bugged me a bit over the last couple of months to be honest, is how often Steve Bruce has mentioned the Halloween disaster at St. James’ during TV interviews. We all want to exorcise the ghost of that game which should not still be haunting us after what has been an excellent recovery and turnaround to hit 6th spot in the Premiership, despite the catalogue of injuries suffered by the Lads. So Steve, my advice is forget about that game and its post-traumatic shock, and get on with the real business of overhauling Chelsea, and looking at realising the Black Cat’s somewhat understated ambition of Europa League football next season.

December 24, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/24/2010

So a hard-fought win over Bolton has brought Sunderland to the heady heights of joint 5th in the table, level with Tottenham Hotspur. The win was down to some sound defending, especially after the loss of John Mensah in the first quarter, an excellent predatory goal from Welbeck, and an amazing save from Craig Gordon just before the break. A compelling first half then, followed in the second period by a lot of huffing and puffing from Bolton, from which they threatened without looking entirely convincing. So Sunderland held on for a very valuable 1-0 win and a ninth clean sheet of the season. Testimony again to the club’s resilience this season, the character of the manager and his staff, as well as a refusal to give in despite great adversity in the form of a long injury list.

December 10, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/10/2010

I know that many supporters, as well as captain Lee Cattermole were saying this about the game at Wolves, but the clash with Fulham is one that Sunderland need to win if they are to show any potential for breaking into the top 6 of the Premiership. The defence did very well against an enterprising West Ham last weekend, and playing together in tough games will help the back five to gel. Steve Bruce, having broken his 6-year duck in London with that amazing destruction of Chelsea last time round, now will have been focusing on improving the communication along the back line, and this was evident in the latest clean sheet against the Hammers.

October 30, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/30/2010

This is why we follow football, for games like this. Derby games are huge matches, in an area of the world that is football-mad, and we all have great memories from our favourite Wear-Tyne battles. My best are from those two Quinn/Phillips-inspired 2-1 wins at St. James in 1999 and 2000 - see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-_NOH2X05w and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgvunhc-My4&feature=related - stunning goals as well as great times for the Red and White Army! Since the two cities are separated by less than 16 miles, and with towns and residential areas in between where supporters are mixed, bragging rights are so very important. The scum, aka the deluded barcodes, as the opposition are known to Sunderland fans, come into the game on the back of a decent win at West Ham.

October 16, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/16/2010

Results on Saturday have conspired to leave The Lads in 14th place just ahead of our Monday night opponents Blackburn on goal difference, both with with 8 points. This was partly due to Newcastle forcing a late comeback in a 2-2 draw with Wigan, so Newcastle are currently one point ahead of us, having played one game more.

I was not surprised to see them struggle against an improving Wigan who have made great progress after their nightmare start to the season, but still carry a minus 9 goal difference; overall the point Sunderland gained there with 10 men on our last visit to Lancashire now looks like a decent outcome.

September 17, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/17/2010

So this weekend sees in-form Arsenal against a Sunderland team that seem to be gelling into a powerful and effective unit. We have often heard that the Gunners do less well against the physical meat and potato teams of the North, as Bolton were called when Allardyce was their boss a couple of years back. And that ongoing spat, handbags at 5 yards, between Big Sam and the more urbane Arsene Wenger this week helps to add spice to the Premiership. Blackburn definitely have meat and potatoes tendencies, unlike Sunderland.

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

Darren Bent has had an excellent season in front of goal for Sunderland with 25 goals, He scored in more league games than any other English striker, has stayed fit and built up a good understanding with Kenwyne Jones. He was a "fox in the box" à la Kevin Phillips this season with his trademark expert shots, bouncing in front of the keeper, and demonstrated the ability to be in the right place at the right time.

The only question is, does he have the killer instinct in front of goal in the really big games? He has the ability with proven positional sense and finishing power. Bent must have impressed the watching Capello in the away fixture at Old Trafford when he put the Black Cats ahead with an expert long-distance finish.

So come on, Darren, take your chance to turn it on today and give Sunderland the England hero they have lacked in recent years!

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 1, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/01/2010

Man. Utd. are vulnerable this season, as the Lads showed in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford, that excellent 2-2 draw, when we were robbed by a late deflected own goal. They do not like teams coming at them, and have a certain fragility to counter-attacks. Man. Utd. are beatable, having lost 5 away games this season.

The outcome of this match will come down to whether Steve Bruce can coax another adrenaline-filled, straight from the heart, pacy, top-notch performance out of the team. The capacity SSOL crowd will definitely be up for it! Will we turn up like we did against Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Man. City, or wimp out like against Portsmouth, Everton or Birmingham? OK, those latter games were during the winless winter, when the confidence of the team had been affected. I don’t care what managers say, teams can go out with a losing psychology, once they have gone a few games without a win. But Sunderland’s preparation for this game is excellent, with 2 wins on the trot and a clean sheet in the last game.

To me it depends a lot on the back four. We are without Hutton, and Mensah is doubtful. On the bright side Kilgallon was near faultless against Hull. So look out for the Bardsley, Turner, Kilgallon and Ferdinand combination.

With Cattermole having an injury-prone season, I would like to see Cana return, to help protect the back four. This has been one of the issues this season, do we really have a defensive midfielder? Jones has probably been most solid when coming back to help out. With Reid still out I would favour a midfield of Cana, Henderson, Malbranque and Campbell, and of course the strikers pick themselves.

Call me sad if you like, but I am old enough to remember the climax to the 1968 season. OK. I was a kid at the time; that was the first season when I went to games at Roker Park. Sunderland were on a good run and had pulled clear of the relegation zone (how familiar is that?) and did not have a great home record that year (won 8, drew 7, lost 6), but they had won 4 away games. SAFC were set to play at Old Trafford on the last day, with Man. Utd. looking easy for the title. Newcastle were hosting Man. City at St. James’ concurrently.

What a climax to the season! Sunderland won 2-1 at Old Trafford, with goals from Suggett and Mulhall. Then City pulled the rabbit out of the hat with a great attacking display at Newcastle in a 4-3 win, to bring home the title.

So obviously, I want to see a Sunderland win, we as fans live for days like this, but importantly I’d like to see Bent (24 league goals) score again to get closer to Rooney (26), and be in the running for top Prem. scorer. Then he cannot be ignored for that flight to South Africa...

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

January 29, 2009

Sunderland travel to bitter rivals, Newcastle United, this weekend hoping to complete a league double over the Magpies for the first time in 42 years.

With Newcastle struggling with form, injuries and a manager in need of elocution lessons, confidence is high on Wearside.

Buoyed by a hard-fought 1-0 home win against Fulham and playing a team that's in free fall, Sunderland fans will be expecting Ricky Sbragia to play an attacking line-up and go for the win.

The problems at St. James's Park are starting to mount for caretaker manager, Joe Kinnear, and they're problems that the Black Cats will hope to take full advantage of.

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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