The photo shows the penalty box aftermath of David Bentley’s booking for a dramatic dive (‘appy ‘arry reckons it was a blatant penalty so we must be on safe ground in saying the ref got it right). What follows is Salut! Sunderland‘s attempt to fill the absent Pete Sixsmith’s large boots …
The heavy burden of duty, and the idea that nothing’s too good for a lad who grew up in County Durham, has led me to some fancy dinner tables.
Master chefs at establishments from Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’Saisons to the Emirates Palace have seen to it that I have been served the finest food and wine.
Last night, it was small cod and chips in a cardboard container along the Tottenham High Road after horrendous acquaintance with Tetley’s Extra Cold in The Ship, a pub I could swear used to stock drinkable beer.
Even so, I had the fear of a born pessimist that this £3.99 culinary experience (the “beer” was another £3.20), and the honour of being interviewed by BBC Radio Newcastle by phone on surfacing from Seven Sisters station, might be the high points of a tough evening. I have not seen us win at White Hart Lane and didn’t really expect my luck to change.
The first half looked like proving me right as we ignored early evidence of uncertainty in the Spurs defence – shown as we mounted a couple of promising attacks, one on either flank – and retreated to deep defence, inviting the home side to try shots almost at will.
Fortunately Craig Gordon had points to prove, got down well to one testing goalbound shot to raise his confidence and generally performed as well as we have seen him. In the second half, we had a short bright spell before again conceding greater possession and, finally, a goal.
But the response was instant. Danny Welbeck – on at half time for the entirely anonymous Riveros – made a wonderful, surging run from the left, almost battering his way past desperate challenges before setting up Asamoah Gyan for as classy a one-one-one finish as you’ll witness all season.
We might even have sneaked a flattering winner after Gomes handled outside the box for a dangerous but wasted free kick (that was my impression of the offence; I have since heard it may well have been for a foul on Malbranque just outside the box, Gomes having avoided handling the ball there). ln any event, we ended the game going forward.
Bolo Zenden was a welcome assured presence in midfield and got through a mountain of work. Turner started shakily but grew in stature and had an outstanding second half. Bardsley did what Bardsley does best. Gordon will keep his place, though it was unfortunate that both he and Zenden shared some fault for the Spurs goal, Zenden’s uncharacteristic sloppiness in losing possession in midfield leading to a cross at which the keeper flapped, obviously intent on blocking a Crouch header only to find the ball sent across goal to the unmarked van der Vaart.
This is what I wrote on the way home late last night by way of summarising the game:
They tried frightening us with the names on their team sheet. They tried to win by forcing 123 corners. They peppered our goal with shots but found Craig Gordon in outstanding form, hungry to reclaim No 1 status. They tried falling over only for Bentley to collect a yellow for his ludicrous dive. And then they had the audacity to score, leaving Welbeck and Gyan with no alternative but to combine superbly, with a little help from the Spurs defence’s confusion, for an instant equaliser. Backs to the wall it may have been at times, but our second half gutsiness made the point well merited.
I would add only that Spurs also tried a mini-riot in the hope of getting Cattermole sent off after a challenge on Modric (the impressive Howard Webb correctly showed him a yellow, though Bentley might earlier have won his penalty if he hadn’t been so theatrical and van der Vaart’s hand certainly played a part in their goal).
The same tactics will not work at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are a much stronger side than Spurs and would have turned last night’s first-half dominance into an unassailable lead. But we already have one more point than I expected from the two London games.