Malcolm Dawson writes….The result at Southampton brought us some Christmas cheer but if truth be told I wasn’t full of optimism (when am I you may well ask) as I took my seat before the Boxing Day game. After all we were facing a quality team whilst our boys had been misfiring all season long, only showing their true capabilities in patches. If we couldn’t beat Aston Villa, QPR, Middlesbrough at home then surely the League Champions would turn us over. The one glimmer of light was that they had only just scraped a win against a poor Reading side, but surely Mancini and his team would respond. In my piece about MON’s first year I remarked that I thought our squad was good enough to be in the top half of the table, providing they played to their potential. Well that’s what they did in this game. Make no mistake, Man City’s quality was evident but Sunderland played as a team, showed 100% commitment and a desire that earned them the three points. What follows is Pete Sixsmith’s welcome take on the Boxing Day celebrations.
CAN WE PLAY YOU EVERY WEEK?
Science tells us that lightning never strikes twice. WRONG!!!! It does in fact strike three times, as once again we beat cash loaded, super star heavy, Manchester City 1-0. The name of Adam Johnson will now go down in Sunderland folklore along with Ji Dong-won and Darren Bent as the man who showed City that money can’t buy what Sunderland had in abundance – heart, spirit and dedication.
This was different from last year where we defended and hung on for grim life and then caught them in the last minute. This one was a performance of no little skill from the players and superb preparation from the coaching staff. Homework had been done on City, players had listened to what they had to do and then went out and did it.
City did start well and put us on the back foot. But the difference between this and other games is that we refused to stay there and, once we had settled, we came back at them and unsettled them.
The discipline shown was phenomenal. Every player knew what he had to do and went out and did it. The ball was rarely given away. Tackles were made crisply and cleanly. Wingers ran at defenders and the ball was moved around quickly.
Compare this with the QPR game, where we looked a side who had lost its way. This time we looked a side who genuinely believe they can move up the league. The second half at Old Trafford must have provided a lift and the win at Southampton gave them belief.
Along come City, not in the best of form, hanging onto United’s coat tails and looking over their shoulders at a resurgent Chelsea. I don’t think many of us were particularly confident of even taking a point. What fools we were.
From Mignolet to Bardsley, all 13 involved made us proud to be Sunderland fans. Our Belgian keeper was immense, not just with his excellent first half saves, but also with his immaculate handling of the ball and the aura that has grown around him as he protects the goal. This surely is a goalkeeper heading for the very top.
In front of him, the back four drew confidence from him and returned it. Great call by MON to bring in Kilgallon who tackled and tracked as effectively as he did on New Years Day. Gardner had a fine game at right back and Cuellar produced a captain’s game in the middle.
And then there was Danny Rose who was, quite simply, sensational. This may be his last game as a Sunderland player and if it is, what a way to go. His tackling, interceptions and surging runs were as good as anything I have seen in a Sunderland shirt and MON must be desperate to sign him up on a long contract.
Few of us would have imagined that a central midfield of Larsson and Colback would have triumphed over physical giants like Yaya Toure and Javi Garcia – but they did. Garcia looked another expensive misfit, while an abiding memory of this game will be of Colback chasing and harrying the giant Ivorian into giving the ball away on several occasions.
Larsson had an excellent game, particularly when we moved forward. There were some very astute passes, particularly to James McClean, who turned in his best performance in a Sunderland shirt. He was helped by City picking a back three and pushing their wing backs up, but his running, his energy, his passing and in particular, his superb tackle on the wretched Tevez showed a welcome return to form that has been coming over the last three or four games.
On the other flank, Adam Johnson looked much more like the player we hoped he would be and his goal was really well taken. Hart was expecting a cross, left a gap at his near post and Johnson went for it. 1-0 to the Lads!!!
Sess looked more like the old Sess and Fletcher looked like a very good footballer who works hard and can produce something out of not very much. His shot in the first half, which Hart just got a hand to, was a perfect example of how Norman Stanley operates; nothing much is happening, but he sees an opportunity and goes for it.
What of City? They looked like a team who really would rather be anywhere than Sunderland – it must be a place they hate coming to. There was plenty of intricate pattern weaving but not a lot at the end of it – neither Aguero nor Tevez looked particularly dangerous. The introduction of Dzeko made little impact.
But it was at the back and in midfield where they looked vulnerable. I am a great fan of Vincent Kompany but he looked a struggler here and could have easily been sent off for a cynical body check on McClean in the frantic closing period. Yaya Toure looked muscle bound, the Spaniard alongside him didn’t look up to it and Milner played as we love to see a former Mag perform. Mancini has good cause to be worried; they have tricky games against Norwich and Stoke coming up.
Today was what we expect from a Martin O’Neill team; effort, intelligence and a touch of quality. All that O’Neill stands for showed on the field today for probably the first time this season, and people like me, who have not been over enamoured by the fare on display in this campaign, can spend the next couple of days hoping and dreaming once again.
And I gather we are above Newcastle United in the league table. Now that is what I call a very Merry Christmas!!!!!
See also: Monsieur Salut talks all things Sunderland at ESPN FC:http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739