Those who were there will be able to say “I was there” and those who weren’t there will be able to say “I wish I’d been there” but no one will be able to say how we came away with a point. Except, perhaps, our own Pete Sixsmith, who eschewed the triumphalism of the last night of the Proms to bring us this report:
I don’t doubt that there was a trail of tears all the way down the M1 last night as the Tottenham fans who made the journey “oop Norf” spent the return trip wondering how on earth they managed to drop two points in a game that they really should have had tied up by 3.06. By then, Vito Mannone had produced a sensational save from Danny Rose, saved another one from Adebayor and then conceded as Chabli followed up to put it away, while our defence stood watching open mouthed like the audience at Springtime For Hitler as the big musical number began.
The Spurs players were so pleased with themselves that they forgot to tackle Adam Johnson as he skipped into the box and slid the ball past Loris. Two goals in the opening three minutes and there was more to come in as frantic an opening as I have seen at the Stadium. Back came Spurs and it took another two very good saves by Mannone from Chabli and Adebayor before the game settled down a little bit and we began to gain a foothold.
While all this was going on Ricardo Alvarez, once of Velez Sarsfield and Inter Milan, was watching the mayhem in the Sunderland half of the field while the game passed him by as quickly as a motor car driven by Mr Toad. On loan from Internazionale Milan, he must have wondered what on earth was going on as Spurs passed the ball with unnerving accuracy, went through our midfield (of which he was a part) and threatened to finish the game by ten past three. There have been better debuts by Sunderland players. He is not renowned for his tracking back and tackling but he eventually got to something approaching the pitch of the game and he began to make a contribution as we started to give a passable interpretation of a Premier League (lower third) side. One pass to Connor Wickham split the shaky Spurs defence, although our hard working centre forward could do little with it.
For half an hour Spurs dazzled. Christian Eriksen, Mousa Dembele and Erik Lamela were a pleasure to watch – neat triangles, some wonderful passing and accurate shots – all you would want from a midfield. Lamela had struggled for much of last season, finding the switch from Italian football to the harum-scarum Premier League a huge jump. With the benefit of a sympathetic Argentinian coach and a year’s experience, he looked the part today and Cattermole, Larsson and Rodwell had the devil of a job trying to stifle him.
But at the end of the day, it produced no more goals in the first half. There were plenty of body swerves, step overs and shimmies and shammies, but no more goals. Some of that was down to excellent goalkeeping by Don Vito, some to resolute and determined defending by O’Shea and Brown in particular and some to poor finishing and a serious lack of cutting edge for the visitors.
At half time, the general consensus was that we would be happy to take this. As we watched youngsters play with no worries or cares, it was hoped that a better start would be made to the second half and we could start to negate their technical wizardry.
Fat chance! Spurs were ahead within two minutes of the restart when Jack Rodwell, who struggled to get into the game, lost possession in midfield and they strolled through our retreating defence for Eriksen to tap in. Poor defending and yet another sloppy goal given away. We really must stop trying to help the opposition so much; this Corinthian spirit has no part in the modern game.
I have been mildly critical of the Head Coach with regard to his timing and use of substitutions. He got it absolutely right this time. A tired Larsson and a confused Alvarez were replaced by Giaccherini and Buckley and we had a spell where we were back in the game as Spurs failed to find the killer instinct that they need if they are to be serious contenders. As a result, the fresh legs of the Italian and the lad from Oldham gave us impetus and they got round the back of the Spurs defence, causing some problems. Giaccherini buzzed about the pitch, made some astute passes, gave the ball away a couple of times (once to the total exasperation of Poyet, who looked like a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown) but was able to give us a touch of quality that was sadly lacking at times.
Dembele had faded by this stage but the excellent Lamela kept on going and hit the bar with a splendid free kick. It looked as if the screw was going to be tightened and Spurs would claim all three points. On came Jordi Gomez to give us a bit of composure in the centre of the park. He rescued us at West Brom and it was the fleet footed Spaniard who took the free kick which Harry Kane bundled over the line for the equaliser. Good of him to do that; thanks Harry.
There was still time for Will Buckley to win the game for us but he put his shot over the bar and besides it would have been an absolute travesty, even worse than the Chopra goal all those years ago, had we taken all the points.
We held out despite referee Craig Pawson losing his mind for the final ten minutes and making a series of bizarre decisions which incensed both sets of supporters. He had done well for 80 of the 90 but could not maintain it, clearly believing that Spurs had bigger names than Sunderland, so they should be allowed to win.
So, we got away with it. But we also stuck in, did not buckle and showed a resilience and strength that has been missing from Sunderland teams in the past. Spurs have a very good side and I enjoyed watching them (usually through my fingers as I clamped my hands over my eyes) but we kept at them and never gave up.
Gus has done well to instil these strengths into the team. We are very reliant on Brown and O’Shea in defence and with both full backs struggling today and the midfield being swamped by players who cost far more than ours did, we found it hard going. The three who caused the damage cost Spurs £51m. – more than our entire team and with enough change to buy Sixsmith Towers.
The journey home was enlivened by the news from Southampton and the emails and texts that Matthew Raisbeck read out on BBC Newcastle questioning the future of Alan Pardew. No such thoughts about Gus, but we really must stop giving the opposition a goal start.
Turf Moor next week would be a good place to give it a go.
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