Fair’s fair. With the hindsight not available to most fans – or any referees – when controversial incidents actually occur, Salut! Sunderland accepts that Kevin Friend got the penalty about right. A slightly reckless challenge, but not one that merited a red card. Some SAFC fans go further and echo Spurs supporters (not all) by calling it a dive, even if they also feel it was a penalty “about to happen”. Friends again, Kevin? More on all this later but first Pete Sixsmith delivers his own considered post-match verdict …
A six hour coach journey after a scarcely deserved defeat does an awful lot to concentrate the mind. Somewhere in the middle of the old Great North Road, probably between Newark and Retford, I suffered a terrible attack of fairness, not something usually associated with disappointed Sunderland fans.
I had thought about the game as the coach driver managed to take a couple of wrong turns and ended up near Canary Wharf, as we sped up the M11 and across the deathtrap aka as the A14.
As I ate an absurdly expensive ice cream at Grantham services, I could feel something moving in my emotions and feelings and as we moved through the dark of Nottinghamshire, it manifested itself by making me think that the referee called it right.
On returning to Sixsmith Towers and watching Match of the Day, my worst fears were confirmed: Gomes barely caught Bent, Bent was going wide, it was a penalty (just) and it was a yellow and not a red card. So, to all those Spurs fans I berated for bringing their own ref as I stomped back to the coach, I can only apologise. I was not right and Mr Friend was.
The officials were right about the first goal as well. Keane was onside (just) but onside he was and the goal was a good one by the refs standards, although not by ours. I thought that there was a penalty in the first half and I am sure that Mr Friend had that at the back of his mind when he gave the one at the start of the second half.
Spurs must have been worried, knowing that if we equalised, we would probably have gone on to win the game. Our first half performance was a fine example of well organised football; players making accurate passes, penetrating runs and shooting whenever the opportunity presented itself. We were the better side by a long way and I would imagine that the respective dressing rooms were very different places as the players drank their tea.
Bruce would be saying “Keep the ball, we control the game and go on and win. Oh, and Michael Turner, make sure it’s you that jumps with Peter Crouch, not Paolo. He was too easily beaten by the lanky streak of p***”.
Across the way, Old Harry would have been swearing like the costermonger he increasingly resembles and intoning the name of Mrs Redknapp to describe the ineffectual displays from Defoe, Crouch and several others.
The penalty changed the game. It wasn’t a great spot kick, but Gomes saved it well and it gave Spurs an opportunity to pull themselves back into the game. Their non creative midfield of Jenas, Huddlestone (who always reminds me of the largest of the three bears in the original Creature Comforts) and Palcios began to push forward and Harry sent Krancjar on at just the right time. Four in midfield, two up front and Spurs began to push forward.
Our midfield five had worked really hard and had gone forward well, but without Cana and Cattermole was not really prepared for a scrap. Krancjar’s ability to pass the ball accurately and quickly put us under pressure and a serious injury to Gordon added to that. Huddlestone’s rocket shot brought the game to a premature end.
We can hold our heads high, secure in the knowledge that we were the better side for much of the game. Gomes had much, much more to do than our keepers and the Spurs defence was hanging on at times.
But we did not score and this is our weakness at the moment. Chances are being created but are not being put away. Penalties have been missed in two of the last three games. Marking at the back is still sloppy. We are still not scoring enough from midfield. We need to be more clinical.
We have a couple of weeks off and not many players away at competitive games. It gives Bruce and Black time to sort out the back four and stick with it until January. Da Silva did ok but I don’t think he is the answer. Nor is Nyron, lovely bloke that he is. Ferdinand may well get another chance there if Mensah is still out of action. As a former captain, Turner needs to take more responsibility at the back.
Gordon’s injury is a real shame as he was playing well and, for the first time in his Sunderland career, looked a class act. He has had rotten luck with injuries; hope the recovery is quick and complete.
Reading the witty comments from the fans of the second best team in north London, as I munched on a black pudding sandwich throwing scraps to the whippet and fanning my tea cool with my flat cap, made my Sunday morning. Good of Spurs to reignite the old North/South debate in such a humorous way. We look forward to giving them a traditional Northern welcome in April – or maybe not.