From his seat in the stands, Pete Sixsmith reflects on a Sunderland performance which may not have set the pulses racing from sheer excitement, but nor did it set them racing from inept defending. Another satisfactory team display in which three of Bruce’s under utilised performers come in for special praise.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CEC.
It was Cec Irwin’s 70th birthday yesterday and as he left the pitch at half time, the general comment was that he looks little different than he did when he was 25 and was marauding up and down the touchline at Roker Park, crunching into wingers.
In those days, he would have come up against Spurs sides made up of the likes of Alan Gilzean, Dave Mackay, Jimmy Greaves and Danny Blanchflower, all internationals and all icons for those who grew up watching the game in the 60s.
The current Spurs team has players as prominent as those, but who will not become Spurs’ legends, due to the more transient nature of football in the 21st. Century. That Gilzean was a far better player than Adebayor is hardly open to debate and Parker is certainly no Dave Mackay – a player born in Edinburgh and moulded out of the rock of Arthur’s Seat, whereas Parker, with his floppy fringe and sticky out tongue, is the epitome of the urban metrosexual.
But they are a good side and should qualify for a Champions League place for 2012-13 – which makes our performance against them all the more satisfying.
Unlike last Saturday, where we thrilled the nation with our scintillating attacking display, this week we drove the ever more ridiculous Alan “Greeny” Green to distraction as he complained about the cold, our tactics, the atmosphere, the size of the crowd and the fact that Sunderland is a long drive from his mansion in Cheshire. Poor lamb!
It wasn’t that cold (or maybe we are more used to it than effete Cheshiristas) and it was one of those awful lunchtime kick offs where you are rushing about early morning to get the shopping done, do the housework and read the paper, before setting off, with little time for a drink and/or lunch.
The crowd was a tad under 40,000, which seems pretty good to me. We seem to be stuck in this upper 30,000 bracket, partly as a result of the dismal football played earlier in the season and partly due to the current economic climate. When in doubt, blame Bruce and the Tories!! Credit to Spurs for the size of their following, but even they found it hard to get excited after leaving North London at silly o’clock.
The atmosphere was dictated by the game, which was not a thriller but was by no means dull. Here were two good sides, both of whom had managers who prepare their teams well. Good ol’ ‘Arry paid us a compliment by turning out his full first XI, including two of the most coveted players in the PL in Bale and Modric. No run out for the fringe players here – this was a serious game against a serious team managed by a serious Ulsterman.
The Ulsterman selected his strongest team (kindly bequeathed by the sadly misunderstood Tynesider who had preceded him) and had them prepared from the start to make sure that, if Spurs were to win, they would have to work for it.
The back four had to be solid and it was. The midfield had to close down and break quickly and it did. The forwards had to be prepared to come back and look for the ball and they did. The majority of the 36,000 home fans fully understood what O’Neill had sent the players out to do and rejoiced in the fact that we now have a manger who can give clear instructions to players and inspire them enough to make sure that they have bought into his philosophy. The previous incumbent was unable to do that for the last 9 months of his tenure.
Take Matt Kilgallon. If you were Steve Bruce, you were quite happy for him to go to Middlesbrough or Doncaster , the footballing equivalent of the Siberian Power Station that disgraced members of Brezhnev’s Politburo were sent to run. He bought him, dabbled with him – and then ignored him.
Against Emmanuel Adebayor, Louis Saha and Jermain Defoe the Bruce reject looked a class act, reading the game well, tackling crisply and forming an excellent partnership with Michael Turner.
Take Jack Colback. If you were Steve Bruce, you would give him a couple of games and then put him back on the bench and would never dream of playing him at full back.
On Saturday, Wayne Bridge and Kieran Richardson sat and watched Colback turn in as accomplished a full back performance as you will see. When Bale was tired of failing to find a way past Bardsley’s nagging persistence, he wandered over to try his luck against a midfielder filling in. He got nowhere and nor did Aaron Lennon when he came on. Apart from one misplaced pass in the 90th.minute, Colback was outstanding.
Take Craig Gardner. Homesick because he was sick of not playing, he cemented a place in O’Neill’s first team after Christmas and has done very well. He is not the quickest of players and sometimes plays with his head down, but his effort and commitment stand out.
When Bardsley went off, he slotted in at full back comfortably and pulled off the tackle of the season on Bale in the 90th. minute, one which would have been greatly appreciated by the Birthday Boy from Ashington watching from the boxes.
The whole team played its part and there was not one weakness to be seen. Sessegnon was well marked but slipped away a couple of times and, like all teams now, there was a double cover on James McClean – a man who, had the currently unemployed former manager had his way, would be on loan to Peterborough or Barnsley instead of causing full backs to have copious fits of the vapours.
This result and performance is a testimony to how far we have come since losing to Wigan and Wolves in the autumn. The same players but with a different mindset and a manager who knows how to organise and encourage rather than bemoan the expectations of the fans who, wanted to win more than three home games in a year and not roll over against the so-called big teams.
The former occupant of the hot seat was summarising the Chelsea v Wigan game on 5Live. He did a decent job and, came across well enough, showing his knowledge of players and the workings of the game. It was interesting that his colleague, Darren Fletcher, referred to him as a former Wigan and Birmingham manager, with no mention of Sunderland . Perhaps the denial continues and he is attempting to air brush out his time on Wearside. I can’t see him being asked to comment on a Sunderland game, can you?
Everton on Monday and probably some changes from both sides. The Leigh Arms beckons.
Ha’way The Lads.