Pete Sixsmith was travelling home so there seemed good cause for posting a few thoughts, ahead of his matchday analysis, on the five-goal thriller that maintained Martin O’Neill’s heartening start …
It was during the first half and, though I cannot precisely recall, it must have been before Bendtner’s well-taken header had put us ahead.
An utterly woeful crossfield pass from a QPR player on the right sailed far behind all his teammates and into touch.
Three Sunderland players, led by Lee Cattermole, charged towards the place where the throw-in would be taken. Intent on mounting yet another Sunderland attack, they were practically screaming for the ball; the ball didn’t come. It had landed in the crowd where a Rangers fan was refusing to return it.
To me, that was a magical moment that showed we had instilled fear into the opposition. The Rangers fan’s professional foul – hanging on to the ball until his team’s players could get back to defend in numbers – personified that dread. He was playing for time; he could even be said to have been playing for a draw.
**** GET THE BEST OUT OF SALUT! SUNDERLAND: BOOKMARK THE HOME PAGE ****
If that is the effect we are capable, under Martin O’Neill, of having on the people we play against, fans or players, so much the better.
Leaving aside my disagreement with ClapMack (I sensed genuine anger among the travelling support when our defensive frailties allowed a beaten side to level when we had been coasting), it was a good away performance and a great result. There was some hugely impressive flowing football for the first hour, some individually exceptional play and confident handling of the occasional, usually limited assault on our goal, Titus Bramble’s superb goal-line clearance just before our second goal reflecting the only hint of real threat.
Bendtner’s header from Kieran Richardson’s corner gave us a deserved lead and, together with his generally strong showing, must have boosted his own morale significantly. Sessegnon’s goal, after he had run half the length of the pitch following Bendtner’s clever back-header, was deftly taken.
Then the crazy 10 minutes. Instead of building on the lead, we became shaky at the back and incapable of dealing with crosses landing anywhere in or near the six-yard line. A bundled first goal after one such cross, from the left, fired up Rangers. It was then no surprise that a second should follow from a hopeful lob into the box; we looked like a team about to turn setback into catastrophe.
Our magnificent support went eerily quiet for a while. People around me – sorry, ClapMack – were not only downhearted but cross. But just as suddenly as we had forfeited control, we regained it. There was an end-to-end aspect to the last 20 minutes, but it was always Sunderland that seemed more assured, more dangerous going forward. O’Neill brought on Gardner and Colback for Larsson and Vaughan; it steadied us in midfield. Our supporters quickly resumed their earlier vocal heroics. It was as if, after two near things, they willed Wes Brown to power his winning header home.
So there you are: positivity, even if beating a moderate, newly promoted team represents Sunderland getting the job done rather than achieving anything sensational. Victory in London is always worth crowing about. We needed a win and found, as O’Neill put it, the character and performance to secure one.
Individuals? Step forward Lee Cattermole, a strong, effective, infectious and – until that silly, classically Cattermolesque late yellow – disciplined. Bendtner: an exemplary game, full of guile and threat. Richardson: ran his heart out for the cause. Bramble: generally impeccable and that goal-line header counted enormously. And Sessegnon: by far the most skilled player on the pitch and a peach of a finish for his goal. Wes Brown deserves special credit for overcoming any personal disappointment with the defending for QPR’s two goals to force home our third. Those not mentioned: no one played badly in a rousing team effort.
Swallows and spring come effortlessly to mind. But let nothing be taken from a pulsating victory.