Few would have predicted a seven-goal thriller, unless they expected that heavy an away win without the thrills at the other end, Jose Mourinho thought we would have won 5-4 had there been a couple of corners and a minute or two more at the end. Pete Sixsmith was impressed by some of what he saw from Sunderland but says the positives must be carried forward to Saturday evening …
As a football fan bordering on the obsessive, I usually enjoy games with lots of goals. A 4-3 or a 4-2 for either the home or away side usually sends me home with a spring in my step and a feeling that I was better off watching Willington play Northallerton Town than sitting in front of the television watching the nefarious goings on in Walford and Weatherfield.
However, I would have far preferred a scrappy, boring 0-0 last night rather than the feast of goals that was served up by two sides who could not defend against players cutting in from the left or from set pieces. Goals were scored that shouldn’t have been and chances were missed that should have been taken. It kept the neutrals in the crowd entertained, but who cares about entertainment when points are needed. As one former Sunderland manager said: “If you want entertainment, go to the circus.”
The undoubted star of this circus performance was Eden Hazard. The Belgian is rapidly forcing his way into the upper echelons of The Ten Most Famous Belgians List and is currently sandwiched between Adolphe Sax and George Simenon, having recently passed Jacques Brel and Hergé and leaving Plastic Bertrand trailing in his wake – just like he did with Phil Bardsley last night.
If anything summed up the huge gap between the top of the Premier League and the workhorses at the bottom, we saw it yesterday. Every time Hazard got the ball, there was a shiver of fear running through the 37,000 Sunderland fans present. If we were shivering, what on earth must Bardsley have felt like?
Hazard twisted and turned and gave the Casino Kid a torrid time, scoring twice and setting one up to give his team a deserved win. Along with Mata, Lampard and the quietly impressive Willian, they dominated midfield and would have won far more comfortably had they possessed a forward, as Torres looked like a man about to be sent on loan to Brentford and a defence that knew how to clear a ball.
To score three goals against a side who are clearly title contenders is a real positive. That they came partly as a result of defending that would have looked out of place in the Wearside League, is not our fault. Altidore took his well and had an excellent game albeit one played mostly with his back to goal. His first Premier League goal for us was well taken as he turned the vastly overrated Gary Cahill and thumped it home to put us ahead for the only time in the game.
O’Shea’s equaliser came from a poor corner (Giaccherini is as proficient at taking corners as I am at needlepoint), a slip by Brown and a missed clearance by Ivanovic. That gave us hope and this time we held out for 12 minutes before the wonderful Walloon restored their lead.
The own goal that followed was a snorter. Ba’s shot (Ashley/Pardew did good business in flogging him) was as going wide until the Casino Kid turned it in. That he made up for it two minutes later made it all the more frustrating. Grrrr.
At the end of the day, we showed that we have the ability and the temperament to get out of the undoubted mess that we are in. But there are weaknesses that must be addressed in January – and how many times have I said that over the years. Neither full back convinces against pace and trickery although it is unlikely that Bardsley will come up against a winger as good as Hazard for a while. Who said Andros Townsend and Gabby Agbonlahor?
Altidore had a fine game up front and muscled out a former and current England player. The ball was played up to him quickly and he used his physical strength to pressurise Chelsea. A good example of horses for courses by Poyet. It will be interesting to see whether we use the same tactic on Saturday.
Our midfield found it hard to compete with Chelsea’s but Ki looked comfortable and Gardner and Colback were competent if hardly inspiring. Colback was rightly substituted after referee John Terry almost gave him a second yellow card and a subsequent red. Terry refereed the game well, keeping Phil Dowd right on so many things and ensuring that Chelsea got more or less what they wanted.
My brother was there on his annual visit to the Stadium. “2-4 last year, (West Brom), 3-4 this year. maybe a 4-4 draw next year – but it could be against Doncaster Rovers” was his observation. He saw a lot of good things and observed that the passing was as good as he has seen, the commitment and effort were there but there was a noticeable lack of quality in crucial areas – particularly up front where Giaccherini and Borini flattered to deceive. A colleague at work made similar points.
He also said that he didn’t realise how much Chelsea cluster around the referee and, as he rarely attends PL games, he was shocked to see their players waving imaginary cards at the ref. Weaker ones than Phil Dowd would have given into their demands and Colback would have been off and Ba and Ramires would each have had a penalty. Thank goodness it wasn’t Kevin Friend or Andre Marriner. As charmless as ever – but they won and are sitting comfortably in second place, so they won’t care.
It’s another game lost but we must go into the pre-Christmas games with some hope. Tottenham are spluttering, West Ham may well have the crowd on their backs and Norwich ship goals away from home. A cluster of points from those games and we will be back amongst the pack and we can start thinking of moving up the table. Lose them and we can start thinking of Doncaster, Bournemouth and a derby at Middlesbrough, something which does not bear thinking about.
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