soccernet blog
August 20, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/20/2012

The big question on the opening day was could Sunderland, after their less than impressive pre-season, make an impression against a potentially demoralised Arsenal? The North Londoners seem to be making a habit of selling their best players, and have moved their captain on in each of the last 3 seasons.

May 5, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/05/2012

Sunderland made the surprise choice of Craig Gordon as keeper, and he put in a creditable performance, and was blameless for the visitors’ two goals. Cattermole returned, and came away with his usual booking. Our line-up was 01 Gordon, 02 Bardsley, 04 Turner, 12 Kilgallon (Bridge - 82'), 16 O'Shea, 06 Cattermole, 14 Colback, 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 09 Campbell, (Elmohamady - 72'), 52 Bendtner.

Bolton made the short trip north, recalling Kevin Davies in this team: 01 Bogdan, 18 Ricketts, 25 Boyata, 31 Wheater, 32 Ream, 07 Eagles (Miyaichi - 64'), 10 Petrov, 16 M Davies, 19 Reo-Coker (Vela - 78'), 14 K Davies, 24 Ngog (Klasnic - 64').

April 27, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/27/2012

The game vs. Aston Villa on Saturday was a solid performance from Sunderland. Aside from the first 10 minutes the team rarely looked like conceding, and the goal by Bendtner that was disallowed for offside would have been given on most other days. I also felt that James McLean has been off colour recently, and he was also wasting chances in this crucial match. There is no doubt that Martin O’Neill’s comments after the game were right on the money, and we should have won the game.

I feel sorry for Villa, and sympathise with the situation they are in. They have had to sell some very good players such as Ashley Young and Stuart Downing. The injury to key players Darren Bent was devastating for them, and I do not blame them for signing our top striker. I still blame him for walking, though. The Petrov situation is obviously also hanging over them.

April 16, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/16/2012

For Saturday's game the weather was quite warm, but there was a strong wind and the players were showing signs of perspiration rather than inspiration.

Sunderland welcomed back Richardson and Bendtner, in the following line-up: 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 04 Turner, 11 Richardson, 12 Kilgallon, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner (Campbell - 78'), 14 Colback, 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 52 Bendtner.

Wolves came to scrap, as their season would have been over with a defeat. It’s pretty well over for them anyway, and that can have a positive effect on a team, when the tension goes and the pressure is off. We forget that Wolves won their first three games this season, and they have been a bogey side to Sunderland in the past couple of years.

They featured: 01 Hennessey, 05 Stearman, 11 Ward, 16 Berra, 32 Foley (Zubar - 82'), 07 Kightly (Edwards - 76'), 08 Henry, 26 Davis, 37 Forde (Jarvis - 61'), 09 Ebanks-Blake, 10 Fletcher.

April 13, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/13/2012

I am pretty sure that these past few games have been an education for Martin O’Neill. The matches have been coming thick and fast, and we drew a blank scoring-wise against both Spurs and Everton.

April 6, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/06/2012

Make no mistake, this was a stunning performance by Sunderland; one of the best, if not the best of the season. Forget the 4-0 over Stoke, 2-0 over Arsenal, the 4-1 at Wigan or the previous win over Manchester City on New Year’s Day, this was as convincing as any performance this season, partly because it was so much against the odds.

If we had held on for 3-1 at the Etihad, justice would have been done, and the whole day would have been like the 3-0 win at Chelsea 16 months ago, but it was more the style of play and the way in which we took the game to the hosts from the start that impressed. This was eventually the first time Manchester City had dropped a point at home since February, 2011.

We lined up with 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 04 Turner, 12 Kilgallon (Kyrgiakos - 81'), 06 Cattermole (Vaughan - 90'), 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 52 Bendtner.

In what they probably thought would be a canter, City were represented by 25 Hart, 02 Richards (Johnson - 46'), 04 Kompany, 13 Kolarov, 28 K. Toure, 07 Milner (Pizarro - 81'), 21 Silva (Tevez - 58'), 34 De Jong, 42 Y. Toure, 10 Dzeko, 45 Balotelli.

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

OK, I admit it...I got my prediction of the score wrong, I suggested 2-1 to Sunderland and in the end it was 3-1. Overall, though, this was an encouraging performance from the Lads, who got back on track after caving in anaemically at Ewood Park, showing real dominance and good concentration going forward in this game. QPR contributed to their own downfall but our goals were good, and we played with conviction and no little skill.

There were changes from the Blackburn game, and we lined up with 22 Mignolet, 03 Bridge (Meyler - 70'), 04 Turner, 16 O'Shea (Campbell - 27'), 25 Kyrgiakos, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 15 Vaughan, 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 52 Bendtner (Elmohamady - 82').

QPR featured 01 Kenny, 18 Young, 34 Taiwo, 35 Ferdinand, 42 Onuoha, 02 Diakite (Buzsaky - 52'), 04 Derry, 07 Taarabt (Wright-Phillips - 60'), 12 Mackie, 23 Cisse, 52 Zamora (Bothroyd - 82').

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

Sunderland made a few changes from Saturday’s excellent draw at Everton, leaving out O’Shea for debutant Kyrgiakos and bringing in Gardner for Colback, in the following line-up: 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 03 Bridge (Colback - 77'), 04 Turner, 25 Kyrgiakos, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 15 Vaughan, 23 McClean, 09 Campbell (Ji Dong-Won - 72'), 52 Bendtner.

It is interesting to compare notes on the team with which Martin O’Neill won his first game for the Cats against Blackburn in December 2011, and I am sure that I was not the only person looking for distractions in what proved to be a dire first half. Anyway, the line-up on December 11 at the SSOL was 20 Westwood, 02 Bardsley, 05 Brown, 11 Richardson, 16 O'Shea, 19 Bramble, 07 Larsson, 14 Colback, 15 Vaughan, 28 Sessegnon, 10 Wickham, so only 3 players survived from that day, Bardsley, Larsson and Vaughan. Had not really thought the turnover in the team had been that great.

Blackburn fielded 01 Robinson, 03 Mn Olsson, 16 Dann, 31 Hanley, 10 Formica (Orr – 79’), 12 Pedersen, 15 Nzonzi, 21 Ms Olsson, 35 Lowe, 23 Hoilett, 24 Yakubu.

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

Why is the FA Cup so special? It is of course the original and definitive cup competition, the oldest in the world. But teams can win the League Cup, and it is forgotten about the next season, if not the next day...I did not see Liverpool exactly buoyed by their win over Cardiff. There is a romance about days like this, going to a proper Northern football ground to scrap it out in a knock-out game.

On this very Saturday in 1973, as a mere kid, I took my usual cycle ride to Roker Park, and I joined a capacity 53,150 others for what ended up as a fairly routine 2-0 win F.A. Cup quarter final win over Luton Town, in a competition we eventually won by not just beating the then great Leeds Utd, but at times in the Final actually toying with them by playing keep-ball. I say that day was a routine win, but we were in a way watching history in the making, winning through even though Luton town had done the double over us in the league; we had put out Manchester City in scenes of great drama in the previous round.

That great final of 1973 obviously has become the stuff of Sunderland folklore. The team against the Hatters on March 17th, 39 years ago was the same as the F.A. Cup winning XI: Jim Montgomery, Dick Malone, Ron Guthrie, Mick Horswill, Dave Watson, Richie Pitt, Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Vic Halom, Ian Porterfield and Denis Tueart. I remember how many people smoked at the game, crowds standing, and the smell of Bovril and pies which somehow all added to the atmosphere.

Martin O’Neill knows all about what happened in 1973 and wants the chance to make it happen again - he could do worse than show the DVD to the current Lads. He selected an unchanged team to face the task of getting something from the game and guiding Sunderland to the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the first time since Mick McCarthy took us there as a Championship team in 2004. We lined up with 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 03 Bridge, 04 Turner, 16 O'Shea, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 23 McClean, 09 Campbell (Vaughan, 73'), 52 Bendtner.

Everton have won 7 of the previous 11 F.A. Cup meetings between the sides, and David Moyes stirred up some controversy by putting out a much-changed team that ultimately surrendered tamely at Anfield, an act that at least indicated his focus for this part of the season. Aside from Jagielka being dropped to the bench there were no surprises in the home team: 24 Howard, 03 Baines, 05 Heitinga, 15 Distin, 18 Neville, 23 Coleman (Gueye - 72'), 10 Drenthe (Stracqualursi - 85'), 17 Cahill, 21 Osman, 25 Fellaini, 07 Jelavic.

March 13, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/13/2012

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').

March 9, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/09/2012

In the end this was a passionate, memorable but inconclusive 1-1 draw, in which Sunderland led for most of the game in what was a hugely intense and entertaining Wear-Tyne derby clash.

And for once the use of the word 'clash' is accurate - players did not hold back and there we 5 bookings for the home team, plus 3 bookings for the Black Cats, who also suffered a red card for Sessegnon's elbow. Sunderland’s line-up was as follows: 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 04 Turner, 11 Richardson (Bridge - 85'), 16 O'Shea, 06 Cattermole, 07 Larsson (Colback - 73'), 08 Gardner, 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 52 Bendtner (Campbell - 71')

The barcodes were represented by 26 Krul, 02 Coloccini, 03 Santon (Ben Arfa - 46'), 05 Simpson, 06 Williamson, 16 R Taylor (Lovenkrands - 88'), 04 Cabaye, 18 Gutierrez, 24 Tiote, 09 Cisse (Ameobi - 72'), 19 Ba.

March 2, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/02/2012

This was a collective off-day by the Sunderland team, in a match that West Bromwich Albion were clearly up for. To be honest, I would rather forget the day and not write about it, so please do not look for any enthusiasm in this coverage. That is not taking anything away from the home team, who did the simple things well, and scored at crucial times in this game, and as I predicted in my preview the on-form Odemwingie was a constant threat.

The Black Cats lined up as follows: 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 04 Turner, 11 Richardson (Bendtner - 46'), 16 O'Shea, 06 Cattermole, 07 Larsson (Bridge - 59'), 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, (Campbell - 46'), 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon – a decent enough team on paper.
The home team featured 01 Foster, 03 Olsson, 06 Ridgewell, 23 McAuley, 07 Morrison, 08 Andrews, 12 Reid, 14 Thomas (Dorrans - 64'), 21 Mulumbu (Shorey - 77'), 24 Odemwingie (Long - 81'), 32 Fortune.

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 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 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

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.

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

Swansea put in a refreshing performance at the stadium of Light, but ultimately capitulated after two excellent goals from the home team.

Sunderland welcomed back Wes Brown in the following line-up: 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 05 Brown, 11 Richardson, 16 O'Shea, 06 Cattermole, 07 Larsson (Elmohamady 89), 15 Vaughan (Gardner 78), 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 52 Bendtner (Wickham 12). The visitors fielded 01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton (Routledge 78), 11 Sinclair, 12 Dyer, 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson (McEachran 66), 10 Graham.

January 23, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/23/2012

This was an exciting but ultimately fruitless visit to the capital where Sunderland matched the home team on all fronts except on the most crucial one, taking our chances.

Nicklas Bendtner returned to the Black Cats’ squad at Chelsea, after a knee injury which kept him out of the FA Cup win at Peterborough. Fellow front man Fraizer Campbell is close to full fitness and available for the first time since August 2010 after recovering from two serious knee injuries. Jack Colback, Wes Brown, Titus Bramble and Craig Gordon remain on the casualty list. The visitors’ line-up was 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 11 Richardson (Wickham 80), 12 Kilgallon (Turner 45+1), 16 O'Shea, 06 Cattermole, 07 Larsson, 15 Vaughan (Gardner 69), 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 52 Bendtner. Subs were 20 Westwood, 04 Turner, 08 Gardner, 18 Meyler, 27 Elmohamady, 10 Wickham, 17 Ji Dong-Won.

Florent Malouda dropped to the bench for Chelsea, as he did not train on Wednesday or Thursday. Daniel Sturridge and John Terry were both passed fit but the game came too soon for Michael Essien, Branislav Ivanovic and John Obi Mikel. Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are away on African Nations Cup duty, in the following team: 01 Cech, 03 Cole, 04 David Luiz, 17 Bosingwa, 26 Terry, 06 Romeu, 07 Ramires, 08 Lampard (Essien 73), 16 Meireles, 09 Torres, Mata (Malouda 85).

January 12, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/12/2012

Sunderland welcomed back Phil Bardsley in another one-off defensive formation in the following line-up: Mignolet, Gardner, O'Shea, Kilgallon, Bardsley, Larsson, Richardson, Cattermole, Vaughan, McClean, Sessègnon. Subs: Westwood, Turner, Wickham, Ji, Meyler, Elmohamady, Noble. Great to see Turner back on the bench, but clearly Bendtner was being “rested” for this key away fixture, with Connor Wickham being on hand for an appearance should his muscle be required upfront..

The Peterborough line up was: Lewis, Alcock, Bennett, Zakuani, Rowe, Tunnicliffe, Wootton, Tomlin, Boyd, Sinclair, Taylor. Subs: Jones, Little, Newell, Thompson, Kearns, Gordon-Hutton, Lawler.

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

Another game, another excellent win for Sunderland. This match-up with Wigan provided our second 4-goal haul against them over the past year, and there were some great strikes among these latest goals. But most importantly this win demonstrated the new levels of confidence now running through this admittedly injury-hit squad. Teamwork is at a high, and after a few wins the speculative efforts tried by the Black Cats are ending up as goals – 3 of yesterday’s were unstoppably in the top corner of the goal.
As well as long-term injured Craig Gordon and Fraizer Campbell, Sunderland had fitness concerns over Michael Turner, Keiren Westwood, Titus Bramble, Phil Bardsley, Seb Larsson, Kieran Richardson and Jack Colback. The line up was.22 Mignolet, 11 Richardson (Meyler 67), 12 Kilgallon, 16 O'Shea, 06 Cattermole, 08 Gardner (Elmohamady 83), 14 Colback, 15 Vaughan, 23 McClean (Ji Dong-Won 89), 28 Sessègnon, 52 Bendtner.

The Wigan line-up was 26 Al Habsi, 02 Gohouri, 03 Alcaraz, 23 Stam (Sammon 58), 31 Figueroa, 04 McCarthy, 07 Crusat (Moses 39), 08 Watson (Diame 86), 14 Gomez, 19 Jones, 20 Rodallega

January 3, 2012
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/03/2012

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).

December 31, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/31/2011

Not winning against Everton has become a bit of a habit for Sunderland. I don’t recall a win over them home and away over the past 10 years, ever since a 1-0 home win with a Claudio Reyna goal in December 2001.

The Lads lined up as follows: 20 Westwood, 02 Bardsley (Gardner 46), 05 Brown, 16 O'Shea, 19 Bramble (Colback 21), 06 Cattermole, 07 Larsson, 11 Richardson, 15 Vaughan (McClean 81), 28 Sessegnon, 52 Bendtner. Good to see Catts keeping his place, but injury is still keeping Turner out of the team. The Merseysiders featured 24 Howard, 02 Hibbert, 03 Baines, 05 Heitinga, 06 Jagielka, 15 Distin, 18 Neville, 10 Drenthe (Gueye 75), 17 Cahill (McFadden 87), 21 Osman, 08 Saha (Vellios 84).

December 26, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/26/2011

Eventually a great win on away soil as the Black Cats attacked on their travels, taking the game to QPR.

We took the train to this game, then tube to Wood Lane, followed by a requisite burger at Westfield before entering the QPR ground at the Ellerslie Road stand, and took our seats. I could see little change in the ground since I was last there in 1999; the legroom was poor, but I feel compelled to mention that our comfort and satisfaction were not aided by a large squidgy turd on the cement under my younger son’s seat. We alerted the steward to this slimy piece of excrement 50 min before kick-off, but nothing happened, and we had to find a suitable use for a folded Evening Standard which did not even bother to preview the game…

December 21, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/21/2011

First of all, everybody agreed this was a good game – end to end, with great chances for both teams. Sunderland kept erstwhile captain Lee Cattermole on the bench, but featured Wickham and Sessegnon up front. Spurs are on an amazing home run, 6 wins with 2 goals conceded since that memorable 5-goal disaster versus Manchester City.

The Black Cats lined up as follows: 20 Westwood, 02 Bardsley (McClean 69), 05 Brown, 11 Richardson, 16 O'Shea, 19 Bramble, 07 Larsson, 14 Colback (Gardner 75), 15 Vaughan, 28 Sessegnon and 10 Wickham (Bendtner 46). Unused substitutes were 24 Carson, 06 Cattermole, 27 Elmohamady, 17 Ji Dong-Won.

Spurs were missing strikers but still had a lot of firepower, although Van der Vaart has been a bit quiet recently: 24 Friedel, 13 Gallas, 26 King, 28 Walker, 32 Assou-Ekotto, 07 Lennon (27), 08 Parker, 11 Van der Vaart (Rose 89), 14 Modric, 30 Sandro (Livermore 82), 10 Adebayor, with unused subs. 23 Cudicini, 19 Bassong, 21 Kranjcar, 29 Livermore, 40 Pienaar.

December 17, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/17/2011

A game that for much of the time looked like the 2011-model Sunderland – lots of territorial advantage, endeavour – huffing and puffing, but seemingly nobody to drive home that advantage – until the 84th minute…

Sunderland lined up as follows: 20 Westwood, 02 Bardsley, 05 Brown, 11 Richardson, 16 O'Shea, 19 Bramble, 07 Larsson, 14 Colback (McClean 76) 15 Vaughan, 28 Sessegnon, 10 Wickham (Ji Dong-Won 76). Subs 24 Carson, 12 Kilgallon, 18 Meyler, 23 McClean, 27 Elmohamady, 17 Ji Dong-Won, 31 Noble.

Great to see Connor Wickham back after his early doors knee problem and stretchering off at Old Trafford; happy to see it was not a serious injury. I saw him live against Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light and he had an almost complete striker’s game, a constant thorn in Villa’s side throughout, he contrived to score a great first goal for the club. There was also an incipient understanding emerging with Niklas Bendtner. Bramble is back, although a couple of the commentators I heard suggested that he had been putting on the meat a bit during his long lay-off; Titus, you will need to watch the turkey this year...

December 5, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/05/2011

After a compelling performance, Sunderland ultimately came away empty-handed from Wolverhampton, who are becoming a bogey team. The Lads featured their all ex-Manchester Utd back four, and used Lee Cattermole as the holding midfielder, with Ji Dong-Won given a rare start alongside Niklas Bendtner. Larsson was making his 200th top-level English appearance. For Wolves, Jody Craddock returned against his old club, with the ex-Cambridge Peter Reid signing displacing £7 million man Roger Johnson.

• O'Neill, a great appointment!

Both these teams started the game on bad runs, we know how Sunderland capitulated against the Latics last week, and how the current poor run that led to Steve Bruce’s departure. A promising start has quickly morphed into a worrying slide; five points from 11 games is nowhere near good enough. Mick McCarthy was Sunderland manager between 2003-06, and he has his detractors at Molyneux, with critics wondering if he is the man to take the club further forward – the home side have been perpetual strugglers since they were promoted five years ago. He has done well to keep them up.

November 27, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/27/2011

This game started so promisingly for Sunderland, but ended in unmitigated disaster. Unlike me, Steve Bruce, the Sunderland boss down played the importance of needing a victory against Wigan ahead of the game: "If we win it, we go into the top 10, probably, and what's all the fuss about?"

True enough, Stevie, but the problem is that a defeat could, depending on results, have seen the team in the bottom three by the final whistle. Meanwhile Roberto Martinez called on his basement side to stop relying on star players to pull them out of trouble: "We shouldn't put individuals under too much pressure to get the results. With just one win so far, they need someone to do something."

November 14, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/14/2011

The problem with a game of football is that a narrow 1-0 defeat where your team plays well provides the same points yield as a 5-0 defeat, i.e. zero. And however well Sunderland played at Old Trafford, that is how the record boos will see it, another defeat. I sincerely hope that after 30 games of this Premiership season I will not be writing “another morale-sapping defeat”. We have lost 5 of our first 11 games this season, and desperately need to get a couple of wins under their belt to clear any anxiety at being in the bottom 6 of the best league in the world. The own goal from Wes Brown after a well-struck corner from the right at the end of the first half was enough to condemn The Lads to this reverse in an evenly-matched game.

November 1, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/01/2011

This was a game I managed to take in live at our excellent home ground, and it was a chance to: 1. Enjoy the match and 2. To review the club’s progress since my last visit. There were a lot of changes since I last saw the team in the flesh; spending much of my time working in Pennsylvania, USA has its disadvantages, although I do see games live there on Fox Soccer TV.

Connor Wickham is now a “regular” starter – his second game on the trot, and the back four have an unfamiliar look, although Wes Brown and John O’Shea are both excellent players. It takes time to develop that familiarity with each other that all good teams have, but this team is well on its way.

October 28, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/28/2011

Two away games, and two good performances. I have had enough of those times we have played well and not won, and the Arsenal contest was very much in that vein.

Giving a goal away so early in the game at the Emirates was always going to make it an uphill battle, even though Arsenal are not the powerhouse they used to be. However, they still have some great players and Robin van Persie was the difference between the two sides. Overall, as the away team, Sunderland gave as good as they got and the crucial 15 minutes up to half time decided the game in the end, when The Lads missed several excellent chances. Larsson’s excellent free kick was mirrored late on by Van Persie, so it was a 2-1 reverse, but fans will have been encouraged, even in defeat.

October 6, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/06/2011

So another week, another point in the best league in the world, but that simple statement does not quite tell the story of this game. Two disastrous pieces of defending, and West Brom are 2-0 up after 5 minutes, and from then on it was an uphill battle for Sunderland. It was discouraging to see Shane Long leave Michael Turner in his wake for the second, but the big centre-back was no doubt rusty after his long lay-off, and the defence could do nothing but improve from then on, following such an early setback.

September 20, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/20/2011

To be honest, I do not think anyone but me was expecting that performance! I was looking for a morale-boosting win for Sunderland, and dared to hope for a first clean sheet at the Stadium of Light for 10 games. What we got was an amazing performance from start to finish. The Cats dominated the game, were pacy and inventive in midfield as well as up front, and the defence was totally solid.

August 16, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/16/2011

What do I mean by a “solid performance”? I mean we saw a team with such self-belief that even when things aren’t going their way, they can hold on, dig deep and wait for the flow of the game to change. The first half hour of Saturday’s game was nearly all Liverpool, but Sunderland survived some scrapes, and came back to dominate the second half.

August 14, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/14/2011

A solid performance and in the end a deserved point against much-fancied Liverpool, with Steve Bruce feeling the more satisfied of the two managers at the end of the game, and like last season, we came back into the game after falling behind early on.

Bruce had opted what was for me a surprise line-up, with the following selection: Mignolet, Bardsley, Brown, Richardson, Ferdinand, Cattermole. Larsson, Colback, Elmohamady, Sessegnon, Gyan. Subs. Westwood, Bramble, Laing, Gardner, Vaughan, Wickham, Ji. The defensive line-up was unexpected with Richardson at left back, Bardsley on the right, plus Brown and Ferdinand at centre-back. The midfield had an unusual look to it, but no surprises up front. Overall, just 2 of our 10 new signings started the game. Opponents Liverpool gave debuts to 4 players – Adam, Downing, Enrique and Henderson.

June 30, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 06/30/2011

How does one start to review the season that we completed last month? I should just quote a friend of mine who also has worked in the Venture Capital funded Biotech industry – the highs are very high and the lows are very low! All football fans know that anyway, but the contrasts can be truly glorious, horrible and simply amazing.

How can one rationalise the high of beating, even destroying, then League champions Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, with the lows of crashing 5-1 to “the scum” at St. James, or that 5-0 whitewash at Man City? Psychology obviously plays a part, having players playing at the top of their game versus those who just look too shell-shocked even to go through the motions sometimes makes an enormous difference. Teams obviously perform best when every player is performing to maximum potential, and the team is gelling as a unit. It is the job of the club's coaches and management to make sure this happens as often as possible.

May 27, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/27/2011

So Sunderland ended the season on a high with a 3-0 away win against an ultimately drab and dispirited West Ham side whose stand-in manager Kevin Keen said before the game that he wanted the role full-time. It was clear to me watching the game that the team, who had obviously bonded with Avram Grant, were in shock at the manner of his exit, so the vindictive behaviour of the owners and blame game against the manager did not exactly help the club. However, West Ham made a bright start with early efforts on target from Sears and Hitzelsberger before Sunderland went ahead from Zenden’s looping header from Elmohamady’s cross on 17 min. The Cats could finally name a striker and Asamoah Gyan went close several times with a shoot on sight policy.

May 14, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/14/2011

Wolves put in a solid performance just when it was needed to give themselves a good chance of avoiding the drop against what must sound like a broken record, an injury-ravaged Sunderland team, who ultimately ended a season of home games with a whimper.

Ahead of the game Mick McCarthy chose to keep faith with Fletcher and Ward upfront, leaving fit-again striker Doyle on the bench, with former Sunderland target Hunt preferred to Jarvis, who scored in Wolves only away win this year, 1-0 at Villa. The Black Cats gave a rare start to Christian Riveros, who would have been expected to feature in more games following his great World Cup with Paraguay in 2009.

Sunderland’s subs bench of Carson, Knott, R. Noble, Lynch, Adams, Laing and Cook had a weird look, how many of those players did fans know about at the start of the season? Manager Bruce had said to the media that only 12 senior players have been fit to train this week.

May 10, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/10/2011

So like a Phoenix rising from the ashes the Sunderland team stood up, and were counted on to put in a manful and at times stylish performance against Bolton for a stunning win at the Reebok. This looked at the start like a severely compromised Black Cats line-up, with just 12 first-teamers available from the large squad, but the Lads managed to draw deep on resources of pride, assurance and self-belief that had completely abandoned them against Fulham, to ultimately outplay and outsmart a Bolton team who were on a good home run. As Peter Reid once remarked, goals change games, and a win always feels good, especially when unexpected, but the story on the pitch was certainly different from my expectations and those of most other fans…and 4-5000 made the trip to Lancashire.

April 23, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/23/2011

Sunderland were able to name an unchanged team for once after the slightly more encouraging performance last week against Birmingham. Could The Lads dig deep finally turn it all round with a win over struggling Wigan at the Stadium of Light? Major injuries to Richardson, Mensah, Bramble, Gordon, Campbell dictated the home line-up:
Sunderland: Mignolet, Elmohamady, Turner, Onuoha, Bardsley, Henderson, Cattermole, Colback, Sessegnon, Gyan, Welbeck. Subs: Carson, Zenden, Malbranque, Muntari, Riveros, Meyler, Ferdinand
Wigan: Al Habsi, Gohouri, Alcaraz, McCarthy, Gary Caldwell, Watson, N'Zogbia, Cleverley, Boyce, Rodallega, Diame. Subs:Kirkland, Thomas, Di Santo, Moses, Gomez, Sammon, Stam
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
There was further heartbreak for Steve Bruce and the home fans after just 10 min. as Phil Bardsley was stretchered off with what appeared to be a neck injury. Just 15 minutes later there was another forced substitution when Danny Welbeck pulled up. Ferdinand and Malbranque stepped up to the plate, but these were the major incidents in the first half which was short of goalmouth action, but nobody at the SSOL could have expected what came in the next 45, which were nothing short of sensational for the home team. There was a torrent of goals which ended the drought in spectacular fashion.

April 22, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/22/2011

What makes a top team? Is there a magic ingredient, or set of ingredients that distinguish a team that consistently challenges at the top compared to one of the also-rans? Why are Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and presumably Liverpool confident of finishing in the top six of the world’s best league year after year? It is surely not just their excellent resources, is it something to do with momentum?

April 11, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/11/2011

41,586 fans assembled in hope at the SSOL, optimistic that Sunderland would end their terrible run and prevail against newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion, just like I was. The positives: we scored twice! The negatives: the defence was unsteady, not quite at a chocolate teapot level, but the team slipped to another morale-sapping defeat.

This was at best a mediocre performance, with a few patches of good play thrown in. Where do we go from here? I and other fans have been asking that question too often recently. The club has an injury-depleted squad, there are not enough leaders out there on the pitch driving the team on, and morale is clearly low. Psychology is so important at this level.

April 3, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 04/03/2011

Sunderland’s tough away game at Man City brought the following team selections:

Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Turner, Mensah, Ferdinand, Cattermole, Henderson, Muntari, Sessegnon, Gyan, Welbeck. Subs: Gordon, Zenden, Malbranque, Colback, Elmohamady, Adams, Lynch.
Man City: Hart, Boyata, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Toure Yaya, De Jong, Silva, Adam Johnson, Tevez, Balotelli. Subs: Taylor, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Dzeko, Barry, Vieira, McGivern.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire)

The Cats fans were happy to see Michael Turner make his competitive return to the Premiership, and this is a new starting midfield line-up. City gave a rare start to Adam Johnson.

March 21, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/21/2011

So this was another chance for Sunderland to end their 5 match winless run, which is fast becoming an issue for the team. As pointed out previously, winning is a habit, and losing can fast become a habit too. In the end Sunderland did not score on Sunday, and have not done so in the last 3 games. What is at the root of their current problems in front of goal? Injuries have played a big part, as they did again in this clash, and no team should never underestimate Liverpool, they have some classy players, but are we using new signings Muntari and Sessegnon effectively in a way that benefits the team? We have not won since they arrived. The issue may be that while we have talented players in the squad, they are somehow not knitting together in this phase of the season, unlike in the first half. Clearly we are missing to goals so well poached by Darren Bent in the past 18 months, we kinda got used to that.

March 7, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/07/2011

C’mon Arsene, man up, and stop being such a miserable g*t! As reported by Soccernet “Wenger was 'disgusted' by disallowed goal”. Stop the constant referee blame game! It evens out over a season, matey, and The Black Cats have had several goals unfairly disallowed this season. If an Arsenal player commits a foul, Wenger’s response is “I did not see it”. If a Gunners goal is disallowed, the incident is seen in excruciating detail.

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

Sunderland kept an unchanged team, so we had these line-ups for this important game for both sidea at the Emirates Stadium:

Sunderland: Mignolet, Ferdinand, Mensah, Bramble, Bardsley, Henderson, Muntari, Malbranque, Richardson, Sessegnon, Gyan. Subs: Gordon, Riveros, Welbeck, Colback, Elmohamady, Knott, Noble.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Denilson, Wilshere, Nasri, Diaby, Arshavin, Bendtner. Subs: Almunia, Rosicky, Ramsey, Squillaci, Eboue, Gibbs, Chamakh.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)

Arsenal were obviously tense early on, maybe the need for a win and, the thoughts of chasing Man. Utd. were getting to them. They were caught giving the ball away, and Sunderland forced a corner after 2 min., which set a pattern of the play being in the home half in the early stages. Another corner for the Lads in the 8th min. led to “goal machine” Phil Bardsley firing wide, what an amazing season he is having. Arsenal did not really threaten until the 10th minute, when Nasri shot straight at Mignolet. Perhaps Arsenal had half a mind on the midweek game against Barcelona, but they were not committing many men forward, aside from Bendtner.

March 3, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 03/03/2011

Are Sunderland AFC in crisis? A run of 4 defeats, littered with defensive errors that we were punished for, does not make good viewing on SAFC TV. These defeats have not been good for the team’s morale, and especially after the way The Lads played against Stoke and Spurs, games we could and should have won. This run would dishearten any outfit, and it is time for the leaders on the field to stand up and be counted. The trouble is that leaders like Cattermole and Turner are injured.

February 24, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/24/2011

No game last weekend: but feast your eyes on these Sunderland games of the past! The festive season has come and gone, New Year is a distant memory but the joys of Spring are still a while away – we still have the wintry conditions of late February to to get through.

So if you are a fan, why not settle down and warm your spirits with some excellent Sunderland memories? These game span the years I have been following the Lads, and I wish to thank those fans who posted these excellent games on Youtube...if you enjoy watching the lads, prepare yourself for a treat.

February 12, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/12/2011

For this crucial clash against Spurs, Sunderland opted to “rest” the self-confessed fringe-player Ferdinand who maybe was the scapegoat from the previous two games, where 7 goals were conceded. Malbranque was brought back against his former team, he is now the last former Spur at the SSOL since Bent, Reid and Chimbonda moved on. To quote the Soccernet Spurs Correspondent: In recent weeks the focus has been on the team’s misfiring strikers and on Harry's failure to bring in a forward during the January transfer window, despite being associated with just about everyone going. Peter Crouch puts in a good effort when he plays but two league goals is a pretty abysmal haul for a centre forward…Defoe has admittedly suffered with injury but has looked worryingly out of sorts in recent weeks. Perhaps there has been too strong a focus on the Champions’ League, which would play in Sunderland’s favour with the AC Milan game looming. After two defeats the home team would see this game as a chance to put things right.

February 9, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/09/2011

Steve Bruce opted to change the defensive formation and fielded 3 centre-backs at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday to deal with Stoke City's aerial threat from set pieces. However unfair it all seemed to the Sunderland fans, after we played the better football and led for most of the game, the tactics did not work as the home side scored all three of their goals from this route. I agree with Bruce that John Carew was offside for the first and second goals but there was a problem which became clear after studying the highlights: playing John Mensah as the extra centre-back made the penalty area very crowded, and it was tough for Craig Gordon to come off his line and intervene. The box was full of bodies advancing towards him whenever Stoke crossed the ball.

January 23, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/23/2011

Sunderland provided the ideal riposte to what was a traumatic week, with a great performance in an end-to-end game at Bloomfield Road. The Black Cats were looking to avenge the only defeat at the SSOL this season, that really weird game dominated by Sunderland, but won 2-0 by the Seasiders thanks to a brace by DJ Campbell; oh, the fascinations of football! The way things ended up on Saturday, an excellent away win by the Lads meant a consolidation of our top 6 position, where we lie 7 points ahead of Newc**tle in 7th spot. The world’s top league is such an unusual Premiership this season, with so many teams beating each other, that only the top 6 have won more games than they have lost, and Sunderland are comfortably in that category with 9 wins and 5 defeats so far. Some of the middling sides have improved, coinciding with slumps of form by traditional top 8 regulars Liverpool, Everton and Aston Villa, and no team has been left behind at the bottom of the league..

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

The much anticipated Tyne Wear Derby provided good entertainment in what was a tense battle. Both teams were missing key players, and the home fans were happy to see Andy Carroll absent from the visitors’ line up, given his performace at St. James' in the Oct. 31 clash. Sunderland were without Welbeck and their influential skipper Lee Cattermole. Overall, the home team were sharper in the first half, coming forward well, with Newcastle threatening on the break.

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

So yes, I was there at Roker Park in January 1973 when Sunderland met Notts County in the FA Cup third round, and although they went on to win the competition in legendary fashion, they did not have it all their own way even then. Steve Death played a blinder in the County goal, and the game ended level at 1-1, with Sunderland winning the replay at Meadow Lane 3-1. How we would have liked that outcome looking back on Saturday’s repeat game!

January 8, 2011
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/08/2011

Spending so much time in the USA and being so often far away from my home town of Sunderland means that it is real pleasure to take in a live Premiership game featuring the Mackems. To be there at Aston Villa for one of their best performances of the season was really special. So despite the efforts of accidents on the M6 to stop the away supporters getting there on time, we were in our seats in the Doug Ellis stand with the rest of the Red and White Army, eagerly anticipating this game. What became clear early on was the lack of confidence that has been troubling Villa, and this limited the entertainment in a first half of very few incidents, with the home team struggling to string more than 2 passes together. Sunderland probed but despite going close now and then, neither team had any shots on target in the first period.

Posted by Lars Knutsen on 01/08/2011

So football surprises us yet again, which is what makes The Beautiful Game so fascinating. An excellent performance from the Black Cats in an absorbing game; they put their injury woes behind them and put Blackburn and their hard to beat image to the sword. This was a performance of almost total dominance, despite the post match comments from opposition manager Kean, and each of Sunderland’s recognized strikers scored a goal. I wrote in my last blog that we have come to expect at least a goal a game from one of Bent, Welbeck and Gyan, and Bruce needs to ensure a rapid return to form for the strikers ahead of Saturday’s visit of Blackburn Rovers to the Stadium of Light. Well our top-class manager did just that, with the top 3 scorers providing the ecstatic home supporters with excellent goals, even though the first was a little lucky. But I believe you make your own luck, and Welbeck obviously had to shoot to score. Being 2-0 up after 19 minutes after that terrific Darren Bent header meant that there was a cushion, leading to some relaxed football and dominance from Sunderland.

December 30, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/30/2010

Two 2-0 defeats in a couple of days – where does that leave Sunderland? The short answer is in 7th place on 27 points, but with a long injury list, and a surprising lack of form from the strikers, who have been collectively misfiring. No excuses from Steve Bruce, just some puzzlement from the manager about the fixture pile-up at this time of year (see, which is understandable in the current injury crisis. Now there are new injuries to Onouha, Weleack and Gyan, aside from the 7 players listed as injured and suspended in my last blog 5 days ago. The only good news on the injury front has been the return of Titus Bramble during the Blackpool game and David Meyler to the midfield in the last 2 matches.

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 18, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/18/2010

The goalless deadlock last Saturday at Fulham did not really entertain the vast army of travelling fans, especially in the first half. So what can we take from this game? Further evidence of Sunderland’s resolve and determination not to be beaten is the main message. For example, a potential turning point in the game came when our born-again centre-back Ferdinand had to be substituted after a hamstring injury after just 10 minutes. Without a decent squad of adaptable defenders, this would have been another injury disaster for the Black Cats, but on Saturday Bruce’s strategy was to bring in El Mouhamady to take over at right back, and to move Nedum Onuoha to centre-back alongside John Mensah, aka The Rock. And the team did fight hard for another clean sheet.

December 5, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/05/2010

West Ham have for me been an enigma this season. They stick to their neat style of attacking football as ever, have one of the best driving midfielders in Scott Parker and his partners like Dyer, Boa Morte and Spector are hardly slouches. England regulars Robert Green and Matthew Upson also feature so on paper they should not be near the bottom of the table. Their problem has been more about getting into a run of defeats and losing their confidence, which until this week, Avram Grant has not been able to lift them out of. Their last two results were excellent, achieved in some style so they should have travelled in confident mood to a stadium where they have a good record. This Premier League is so close, and all teams have quality players, but whatever frame of mind the visitors came north in, Sunderland proceeded to dominate the first half. Steve Bruce had been quoted as saying We're playing with 3 strikers as they are all playing out of their skins. Plus, with the injuries to defenders we've got, I've decided attack is the best way to go against West Ham, so he opted to have Bent, Gyan and Welbeck bearing down on the West Ham defence.

December 3, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 12/03/2010

The less said about Saturday’s defeat at Wolves, the better. The overall feeling from the fans and the club management was that the game was thrown away, and some of the defensive frailties seen during last season’s bad run came back to haunt us. The first half ended scoreless, despite some good chances at both ends. Zenden and a Richardson free kick that came back off the inside of the post were the best Sunderland goal attempts on a snowy surface. The Midland side had shots from Doyle, who fired over from 12 yards and a disallowed offside goal from Stearman to show for their efforts.

November 24, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/24/2010

In a gutsy and compelling Premiership game between two teams looking to attack at every opportunity, Sunderland edged ahead of a hard-working Everton in the last quarter of the game, only to concede a deflected equalizer late on for a 2-2 draw.. It could even have been worse for the hosts as Beckford drove over the bar in the closing stages.

Everton showed their attacking intent in by scoring in virtually their first attack, with Baines lofting a ball over from the left for Cahill to head home in the 6th minute. Then an amazing run by Zenden cutting into the box from the right ended with a cross that was poked in instinctively by Welbeck. It was the young loan star who edged the home side ahead on 70 minutes, with an excellent header from a Richardson cross. His form in front of goal has illustrated the talent of this England U-21 star, who has shown amazing drive in the last 3 games. In a compelling second half, Arteta’s deflected drive from the edge of the box provided a late equalizer for the Toffees, for whom defeat would have been harsh.

November 14, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/14/2010

Sunderland came in to this game with all the statistics against them: Chelsea would set a new Premier League record of 12 consecutive wins by one team against a single opponent if they beat the Black Cats. The Blues had also had a run of 9 clean sheets in a row at Stamford Bridge.

The only glimmer of hope for Sunderland was that Chelsea had a number of high-profile absentees, Essien, Lampard, Alex and Terry, but their squad is so deep that the only player out of position was Ferrera at centre-back. The Black Cats looked to take the game to Chelsea, certainly more that they did in the first half against Spurs the previous Tuesday, by naming Welbeck in support of Gyan. Not many people watching expected the spectacular display that Sunderland came up with...this rout has opened up the Championship race.

November 9, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/09/2010

A Sunderland side with 6 changes took a little while to settle down a against a Spurs team looking to climb the Premiership table after a couple of consecutive defeats. The Black Cats handed starts to Zenden and Riveros, with Richardson being rewarded for his positive display against Stoke in an advanced role close to Gyan for those forward forays.

Craig Gordon was back between the posts at the ground where his arm was originally broken last November in a collision with Jermain Defoe - the start of his recent injury woes. For Spurs, Crouch was absent in the first half, a puzzling move - who was the wingers Bale and Bentley going to target crosses at? Predictably, Tottenham surged forward from the start, leaving Sunderland with just the occasional half-chance.

Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/09/2010

Saturday was a day when our players had to stand up and be counted. It was the day when the team started their rehabilitation in front of the fans who suffered terribly 6 days earlier, and the crowd were a bit restless at the start.

The game overall was much closer that the 2-0 score suggests, the difference being the stunning finishing of Asmoah Gyan. He gave Stoke an early lesson in goal-poaching, latching on to a saved shot from Onuoha to steer the ball home expertly after an excellent move by The Lads. Stoke are known to be a hard team to play against, and they were very good at closing down the home side, especially in the fist half when Kenwyne Jones ploughed a lonely furrow on his return to the SSOL. In the second half though, the referee was a talking point, after the tigerish Cattermole seemed to wrestle the ball off the line from a Jones header.

November 1, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 11/01/2010

After a performance and result like that it’s good to stand up and admit that we were beaten by a better side on the day.

After the first 15 minutes the Sunderland performance was abject, and the players just did not show up. Steve Bruce admitted that it was this defeat that had hurt most since he arrived at Sunderland, and now the team has to just lick its wounds and rebuild for the next game.

October 23, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/23/2010

Make no mistake, this was a hard-fought win decided by the unlucky Richard Dunne who forced the ball past his own keeper at the near post after 25 minutes. That is now 8 Premier League own goals for the unfortunate Irishman, who did manage to get his act together to produce a sound second-half performance, with a superb intervention to dispossess Darren Bent in the box late on. Villa are an excellent side, but they have been stuttering away from home. The Midlanders were looking to score on the break, and had a period of dominance in the middle of the second half, but this just was not their day in front of goal. The possession ratio of 66% to the home side, although favourable, does not tell the full story; again it was the Black Cats’ defence that performed outstandingly to record their third consecutive clean sheet. The Lads had a great first half, and managed to avoid the 6 consecutive draws record, but I would personally be extremely happy to see this defence challenge the run of 6 games without conceding a goal which Sunderland set in the top division around Christmas 1982 (see - by the way an excellent source of Sunderland Stats).

October 21, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/21/2010

The solid performance by Sunderland in the 0-0 stalemate at Ewood Park on Monday night did leave a couple of unanswered questions about the tactics employed by the Black Cats. There is no question that Sunderland had the better chances in what was a rain-effected game, but I agree with Eric Black in his conclusion that the team lacked guile in trying to break down 10-man Blackburn in the second half ( when Blackburn put up solid resistance. What the supporters may have questioned is why Steve Bruce waited until the last third of the game to bring on a second true striker, Asamoah Gyan.

October 3, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 10/03/2010

This is one of the many great quotes from Bill Shankly, and it perfectly described Sunderland’s performance against Manchester United on Saturday. Radio 5 reported that Sunderland held Man Utd to a 0-0 draw, but in fact it was the other way round!

There was again an autumnal chill, this time running through Sunderland’s ranks, who have shown a cool determination to succeed against the top clubs. And I for one put this performance ahead of the excellent 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last season. The first half was total domination by the Black Cats, with Cattermole, Malbranque and Zenden bossing Scholes and Fletcher in the middle of the field.

September 25, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/25/2010

One word sums up the performance at Anfield today by the Black Cats: resilience! Last year when Liverpool suffered that Beach Ball goal against them at the SSOL, it started a slump which they never really recovered from. When Sunderland conceded another joke goal today, they just rolled up their sleeves and got on with it. When you are 1-0 down to a once great club away from home, the leaders on the pitch need to stand up and be counted. For Lee Cattermole, that was not just a case of staying on the pitch, but showing his maturity by providing protection for the back four in that crucial holding midfielder role when The Lads were under pressure in the final quarter of the game.

September 19, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/19/2010

So in the rarified atmosphere of a highly intense and incident-packed game, Sunderland eventually got the point they deserved with a late Darren Bent strike. Arsenal are real force in English football as we all know, but they seemingly had the force with them today until the last minute of the contest.

In a great advert for the Premiership, a truly intense and compelling game, the Londoners took the lead with a freak goal from Fabregas, which made even him burst out laughing. I suppose a weird, playground goal was only to be expected eventually in recompense for that beach ball effort against Liverpool last year, which put the Merseysiders into a downward spiral. No downward spiral for the Black Cats in this game though as the home team went on to dominate the first half. Bent led the line well and was on the spot to rifle home after a classic goalmouth scramble in the dying seconds.

September 15, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 09/15/2010

OK, I admit I was maybe a bit hasty in questioning Gyan's record transfer fee. My last posting received over 40 comments, mainly telling me how Asmoah G. would settle quickly in the top league in the world. So he arrived and made an impact after just training for one day with his new teammates, as well as being jet lagged after a game for Ghana. Gyan was fresh and focused enough to sweep in a majestic cross from Jordan Henderson for a truly stunning strike that put Sunderland in with a chance of winning the game after the earlier indiscretion from Lee Cattermole.

August 31, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/31/2010

How goals change games. What looked until added time on Saturday like a poor start to the season by the Black Cats was suddenly transformed completely by a dramatic late penalty winner by Darren Bent. The first half was also high drama and Manchester City ultimately paid a high price for that casual early miss by Carlos Tevez. However satisfying the win was, this was not a siege, and although the result was reminiscent of the 3-1 trouncing of Spurs late last season, the final supremacy this time was provided by a more controlled performance - very encouraging.

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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