Last season, Peter Thomas‘s comprehensive match report was reproduced here after SAFC beat his team, Swansea City, 2-0 at the SoL. After his excellent answers in the pre-Liberty Stadium ‘Who are You?’ interview, it seemed fitting to offer, belatedly, his thoughts on how the game went. All that follows is his, from his own blog, a long read but one giving an interesting yet fair counterbalance to views of the game from a Sunderland perspective …
Strength through Adversity: Laudrup learns lessons in rip roaring Sunderland skirmish
In our short PL tenure, I’ve learned quickly that there are games, and then there are games. This was one such Game. Packed into its eventual 100 minutes, it had almost everything the modern Premier League has come to mean – goals, thrills, excitement, hurtful and disappointing injury, elation, controversy, quality……… I could go on and on, but if you’ve been lucky enough to have seen it you’ll know exactly what I mean. Wish you were here.
The fixture had promised much pre match, with Swansea buoyant on their two game winning start, and Sunderland boosted by their signing two quality upgrades in Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson.
Before the kick off as well, City paraded their deadline day new Club record signing, the impossibly cool looking Pablo Hernandez from Valencia, who exuded the confidence of a man recently stepped off a private Spanish beach (somewhere around Marbella, eh? So a bit hot – ed) as he took in the applause of another upbeat record City crowd in his saunter to the centre circle and back. Born slippy.
Whilst Pablo H was not in the Matchday squad, ML went with the team unchanged, but the bench contained both Ki Sung Yeung, the extravagantly talented S Korean, and Itay Scheckter, the Israeli International. Sunderland meanwhile stayed with both Gardener and Colback at FB, and a full strength team from all those available.
This is how they lined up………..
01 Vorm, 03 Taylor (Davies – 20′ ), 04 Chico Dismissed, 06 Williams Booked, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton, 09 Michu (Ki Sung-Yeung – 78′ ), 12 Dyer, 15 Routledge (Tate – 73′ ), 20 De Guzman, 10 Graham
25 Tremmel, 05 Tate, 33 Davies, 24 Ki Sung-Yeung, 26 Agustien, 17 Shechter, 19 Moore
The referee was Mr Roger East, a Premier League debutant, and, given the eventual rumbustious nature of the ensuing game, more of that later.
Both teams started strongly, with City bringing their usual flair, and a strong Sunderland side matching their competitive endeavour. Early, Seb Larsson sent in a free kick, which reminded how dangerous both he and it could be – it would come back to haunt us later.
Swansea’s best early chance, over and above a couple of corners, came from a Dyer chip/cum shot, which saw the confident Mignolet clasp it comfortably high having read its flight.
On 15m came the incident that saw Neil Taylor suffer an awful injury.
From a ball worked to the right toward the overlapping Craig Gardener, Taylor put in a challenge that was slightly late and was undoubtedly a foul. He was really unlucky in that whilst making the challenge he fell backwards, exacerbated by Gardner’s momentum forcing him hard down toward the turf. His left ankle, studs having taken a grip, was bent backwards horribly, and one could see from his beating of the ground in pain and his and other players signals toward the bench that it was a bad one. The game stopped immediately, and the bad news was confirmed by the Swansea physio’s crossed armed signal to the bench to indicate a break.
All this happened just 15yds in front of where I sit, and the almost 7m delay passed uncomfortably for everyone as the medics strapped on the inflatable stabilisers to his stricken leg, and he was eventually taken off to hospital under oxygen administered stabilisation.
The first point to be made is that despite understandable home fury from some, Gardner was in no way to blame – it had been unfortunate that his weight going forward drove Taylor into the turf, but it was no more than happenstance.
I want to make two more points about this incident.
Whilst Taylor was receiving attention, John O’Shea, Sunderland’s CB did himself no favours in getting involved in a demeaning slanging match with some Home supporters in the Lower West. Neither party did themselves proud. Secondly, the bulk of the Sunderland support joined in with the sympathetic applause as Taylor was carried off, but a shameful few visitors saw fit to boo. Shameful, as I say, but every club has its attendant fools, ourselves included.
ML and the OS later confirmed that Neil had suffered a triple break plus dislocation and will be out for the season – it goes without saying that ALL football fans will wish him well in his recovery, and this terrific player deserves nothing other than our complete support and encouragement. Huge respect.
Young Ben Davies came on to replace Taylor after the necessary delay of some 7 to 8 minutes.
The game went through a quietish 10m period, unsurprisingly, but was brought back to life by the impressive Wayne Routledge going outside Gardener, only to see the FB bring him down and be the first into the book. De Guzman’s FK was punched bravely clear by Mignolet, only for Rangel’s follow up cross to be cleared by O’Shea.
On the half hour, the dangerous Routledge burst clear of Cattermole in MF, only to be brought down by the Black Cats’ combative MF’er, and he, Cattermole, was not only booked but took a blow to the inside of his right knee, a knock which forced his substitution by David Meyler just 8m later. Both teams had now lost an influential player, and on 40m the first break came.
A Sunderland clearance carried into the Swans half along City’s LB side and Ben Davies’s aerial challenge saw the ball skim off his head and run 10 yds further where the covering Ash Williams, under pressure from Fletcher attempted to turn the ball back to Vorm in goal, only to see his mis-hit pass dribble toward the GK.
The ever alert CF drove toward the Swansea goal with the ball. Williams desperate attempt to make up ground on Fletcher, and Flores’ attempt to cut him off came to naught as the striker cleverly manoeuvred the ball onto his preferred left foot, and he curled a sublime shot past the advancing Vorm to nestle into the only corner, bottom right, that he could have scored. 1-0 to the visitors, and a horrible mistake had been converted by a finish of the highest quality.
This second major blow could have knocked the City team sideways, but, to be fair, they set about retrieving the deficit in fine style.
Swansea attacked strongly, but suffered a scare when a delicious Sessegnon cross from a break right to left saw the powerful James McLean volley just over the bar, with Vorm scrambling – a dive that told us that it was really close.
However, just as the 4th official signalled an extra 6m on 45m, Swansea attacked on the right.
A neat passing move saw Michu central play to Dyer on the right edge of the box, and the winger’s wonderfully delivered dink sent the ball past the square defense and into WR’s path, the other winger having made a wonderfully timed run to beat the flat back 4. Some 10yds out and just wide of the keeper’s L Hand post he volleyed a spectacular screamer past Mignolet into the cenral roof of the net.
1-1, and a wonderfully uplifting equaliser. The noise in the Stadium, which had been constant throughout, just went up another notch. 11 on the scale of 10, as it were.
The remaining 6m and 04 seconds of the half saw two other threats on the Swansea goal from SAFC, one repelled, one not. Another dangerous Sessegnon cross, again from the right, saw the visitors scream for a penalty as Rangel’s clearing header seemed to involve a slight push on Fletcher prior to his clearing the ball, but in this instance the debutant Mr East sided with us. At the very death of the half, he did the opposite.
Adam Johnson, their other high profile signing, hit a cross field pass that the rampant McLean touched first time inside Rangel, and the Referee’s deeming of a handball from the Spaniard led to a last gasp free kick.
It was taken by the technically excellent Seb Larsson, who has a habit of making these count. His in-swinging ball from the left cleared the Swansea defence by a skimming head that seemed to freeze Michel Vorm as he came for the ball, and that delay allowed the wide running Fletcher to mug Chico at the back post and to poke a low finish into the net. 2-1, and whilst the visitors danced, we slumped into the break. I use the word mugged deliberately – it just felt like that.
No matter, there was another 45m to come – time enough to get back at them I thought.The consensus around me was that whilst the winning of our first 2 games 5-0 and 3-0 had been reasonably straightforward, the upcoming half half would truly test the mettle of the team, and, as it turned out, as I’ve suggested in the title and intro, it was to be a half that told us a lot of good things.
Whilst the first 5m or so were even, with both teams testing each other, Swansea began to exert more and more pressure, particularly by retaining possession, but more effectively, by expanding their game to test Sunderland deeper and deeper.
A word here for both Dyer and Routledge. Each was by now consistently seeking space, and finding it, between the lines, and their ability to receive the ball and turn toward the Sunderland goal left Graham and Michu to employ crossing and dangerous runs, and the marauding FB’s Rangel and Davies to get further and further forward.
Similarly, de Guzman was having his best game in a Swans shirt, regularly finding the key pass and putting people free. Sunderland were rocking, and a period of heavy pressure led to the equaliser on 66m.
Just 4m before, an in-swinging de Guzman cross from the left had seen Michu head down and goal ward, only to see the ball bounce just over the crossbar.
So when James McLean lashed a deep ball clear from almost his goal line, de Guzman had time to deliver a curling head height ball in from the right. As the CB’s came to meet it, a superb run by Miguel Michu across them allowed him to get in a terrific header that used the pace on the ball to send it in. 2-2, and the Liberty rocked.
The goal saw Sunderland replace the 2 goal Fletcher with Louis Saha, and a crunching and disputatious Chico Flores tackle on McLean (no foul awarded) left MoN to have his Kevin the Teenager moment…………he was throwing water bottles and whatever else was to hand down in his frustration at not being awarded the foul. In all honesty, I could see what he was getting at, and on 70m, the fabulously committed Chico committed an aberration too far.
From a ball knocked down the left hand touchline, as Chico and Saha went for it, the Frenchman headed it forward down the line. It was obvious that Flores was late, but his 6ft high stretch for the ball whistled closely past Saha’s ear, and he fell to the ground as if shot.
Hey, listen, I ain’t here to defend my own player (but I will offer this) – Chico’s challenge had been foolish in the extreme, and he deserved to be sent off for dangerous play, but I can’t help feeling that if Louis Saha hadn’t milked it quite so much, it might, just might, have been a Yellow rather than Red. It looked, on all the replays I’ve seen, as if there wasn’t any contact. Whatever.
Down to 10 men with 20m to go, the Swans were now up against it, but, to my eternal pride this was the period when the team, crowd and particularly Manager showed their street smarts, coming up with a period of football of which we can all be proud.
Each on field player seemed to double their efforts, and the crowd got progressively and proudly louder and louder, in total accord and in support of the team.
ML, meanwhile showed his tactical acumen, his immediate replacing of Routledge with Alan Tate to shore up the backline given proof by Tate’s excellent performance and brave block late on : this was trumped by his introduction of Ki Sung Yeung for Michu, allowing the Swans to dictate the possession in the last 16m almost 80% to 20% despite being down to 10 men.
Ki, the young South Korean, gave a cameo Masterclass in how to get and keep possesion, never once giving it away in a 100% pass completion rate, and driving Sunderland into acceptance of a point long before the end.
As the clock ran down nearer to the finish, I too was beginning to accept that at 2-2, given the circumstances that had enfolded, was equally as happy with a point.
I came away from the ground quite proud of our performance, and with each progressive watching of the game, and each progressing day, I can honestly say that that pride is equally as strong.
It was a typical PL encounter against a strong and well performing Sunderland side that had just about everything in a hugely exciting match.
Given those circumstances, although it would be tempting to criticise the debutant Referee for a leaning toward our opponents, I find I really can’t. I didn’t think his performance was good – but then I didn’t think it was awful, either. Somewhere in between really.
A word, too, for the competing Managers.
Whilst we are justifiably proud of ML for his rational and sensible demeanour, don’t let my description of MoN’s frustration earlier blind you to the fact that he is one of the few PL Managers to have come here and given us nothing other than decent and honest praise. Respect, and both interviews can be found here.