Having led Blackburn 1-0 and 2-1, the loss of two more points could be seen as another example of the sloppy, wasteful ways into which Sunderland have fallen. Sloppy yes, but
Pete Sixsmithrecognises the draw as a fair result and finds scope to take heart for the new year – and to salute a couple of touches from Daryl Murphy ….
The “typical family Christmas”, I assume, includes a phase where someone in the “family” with whom you have had a fall out over the past year turns up at your house, plonks down in a comfy chair and proceeds to spoil the whole bloody day by drinking your best Egyptian brandy and smoking your finest Manikin cigars.
For “typical family Christmas”, read “holiday trip to Ewood Park”. For awful relatives, read Pascal Chimbonda and El Hadj Diouf. It would not be controversial to say that neither was a huge success in a red and white shirt or that season tickets were sent back by the sackful when they were moved on by Ricky Sbragia.
However, they came back to kick us in the proverbials when they fashioned a second equaliser and then almost drove Rovers on to win a game that we should have tied up after Darren Bent showed what a quality striker he is and Jordan Henderson displayed his exciting potential.
Bent scored twice: one scrappy, one perfect. The scrappy one came after a touch of Daryl Murphy magic (I only had one pint in Lancaster – honest), where he got to the byline and pulled back a cross, causing mayhem in the Rovers box and proving categorically, to me, why Paul Robinson should not be going to South Africa.
The perfect one came when a superb ball by Henderson found Bent between the two central defenders and once he started bearing down on goal, there was no doubt as to where the ball was going to end up.
So, 2-1 up against a side who do little other than hoof the ball upfield; it’s there to win. Settle down, make sure that we retain possession and no more embarrassments like Pedersen’s first equaliser, where two defenders fell over and Fulop left a huge gap at his near post.
What do we do? They hoof the ball at us and we hoof it back at them. It was like watching a particularly turgid Rugby Union game. Allardyce at least had players on the bench who could change it; on came Diouf who can hold a ball up and who can run at defences – not that we saw much of it when he played for us.
Possession lost again, the ball ends up with Chimbonda who put in a good cross and Diouf headed home, untroubled by our defence who had lost him. Nyron was out of position and Fulop started to come and then went back. Had he stayed he may have got it.
We could have lost. Fulop made a great stop on the line and Samba, following up, put his shot wide. There was some scrambled defending. We expect that: all last ditch stuff, little composure.
We could have won. In the last minute, Murphy put in a quality cross which a desperate Nelson scrambled away, depriving Bent of a hat trick.
It was a game from which we can take some positives. Cana won his tussles with Nzonzi and the referee (no yellow for two games running: well done Lorik), Meyler made a satisfying debut and Bent is an absolute God-send. Where would we be without him? Campbell worked hard, Henderson pushed forward well and Murphy earned some grudging compliments.
But the defence still panics and basics are not done. The ball is just kicked anywhere by Bardsley and Nosworthy , while Fulop takes an age to part with the ball – and when he does he kicks it straight down the middle. Surprised Big Sam hasn’t signed them.
Having said that, Rovers are an awful team to watch. Hoof, hoof, hoof is there main “tactic” and they would be no loss to the aesthetics of the Premier League. They also quibble every decision and it got to Mike Dean, who reverted to type with a feeble performance in which he was bullied by McCarthy, Roberts and Samba. The first two must be the division’s worst “strike” force by a mile.
With luck, we are beginning to pick ourselves up for a return to winning ways. Barrow should be a routine win, but the next game against Bolton is vital. As one Rovers fan said, as I exchanged jolly Christmas banter with him on the way back to the coach: “If you think we’re all hoof, wait until you see Bolton.” An enticing prospect indeed for a week on Saturday.