A mate’s death in combat made Sunderland’s season less important

Luke Harvey – pictured below – renews his acquaintance with these pages with his first Luke’s World contribution for some time. With good reason has there been a gap: Luke gets round to football but first explains his recent silence. The explanation is brief, to the point and reminds us of priorities. The posting first appeared overnight but the photos have been switched to reflect the relative importance Luke attaches to events …

It’s been a while since I offered anything up to Salut! Sunderland, one of my main stops as I quench my thirst for anything Sunderland related.

Having left home and found out first hand the trials and tribulations of trying to get an internet connection set up when the previous residents have all left is not something I wish to go through again.

Then, came the biggest blow I have received, not just this year – but in my entire life. Friday 13 August 2010 is a day that will pain me forever, as one of my friends bravely lost his life in a fight in Afghanistan.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why our tame 2-2 draw with Birmingham on the opening day of the season was far from the forefront of my mind.

Following the final whistle I turned my attention to another television in a pub where the news was playing, and there was my good friend – Sapper Darren Simon Foster, or Lloyd as he was known to everyone – that was the first time any news source had confirmed his name or shown a picture of him. that’s him above in the picture millions of TV viewers and newspaper readers have seen.

Fast forward a month and a half and I finally get to take in my first Sunderland match of the season, and ironically my second Manchester United one having accompanied some friends with their 3-0 thrashing of West Ham some weeks earlier.

That dominant Man Utd performance was nowhere to be seen at the Stadium of Light though, as we pressured constantly and forced our esteemed opponents to play the ball backwards many more times than they could forwards – and each and every time our smart brand of football was applauded heartily by a crowd that can only be described as electric.

Even the most passionate of Man Utd fans could see that they were second best to a team that is gaining a reputation of giving the biggest teams in the league headaches. As we look back at Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United it would seem implausible for us to be somewhat disappointed with six points, but having completed all four matches it doesn’t seem entirely out of place to suggest we could have taken the maximum 12 points on offer.

Against Man Utd we were an organised and relatively effective unit. Simon Mingolet was rarely tested in nets and this largely down to Michael Turner’s and Titus |Bramble’s efficient performances. Neither put a foot wrong for almost the entire 90 minutes with only Bramble’s ill-timed bringing down of Nani outside the area gave the opponents a good set piece opportunity – which Nani quickly squandered.

Phil Bardsley adapted well at left back and was solid against his former team, and on the other flank Nedum Onuoha belied his young age to turn in a strong and solid performance. Lee Cattermole sat in front of the back four and, despite clearly being restrained, was dogged in his regular pursuits of the ball and lead the charge as he gave Man Utd no time on the ball and got in their faces.

Ahead of Cattermole were the contrasting ages of Steed Malbranque and Bolo Zenden, and their younger counterparts of Ahmed Elmohammady and Jordan Henderson. All of who switched positions throughout the 90 minutes and often provided Bent with regular and extensive back up as the lone striker. Zenden struck the base of the post with one of the better efforts in the first half, and Malbranque found himself one on one with van der Sar but came off second best.

Up front Darren Bent ran and ran, closing down the majority of the Man Utd defence on his own but never had a real clear cut chance for himself. He was restricted to pot shots from the outside of the area and often on his weaker left foot. Asamoah Gyan came on for the final 10 minutes as the whole team began to feel the effects of a difficult match, Gyan almost winning it with a spectacular over head effort.

In the end it ended up as a rather predictable 0-0 draw which lacked any real clear cut chances, but was full of emotional and passionate play from our side. Cattermole lead the charge from the centre of midfield and appears to have taken on board some of the criticism levelled at him by manager Steve Bruce as he was much more restrained in his tackles. Perhaps he isn’t the “waste of oxygen” I heard him called, admittedly by a Newcastle fan.

Cattermole already has a reputation which supersedes any actual tackles he makes, and against Liverpool had he been the one delivering the forearm to an opposition player’s face then you can imagine he’d have received his marching orders; unlike Steven Gerrard who escaped with a yellow card, a paltry outcome given the challenge.

Myself and my Manchester United supporting friends were all in agreement that there was only one team in the match, but perhaps it was summed up best by one of them. “You were the better team, but van der Sar hardly has warm hands does he?”

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