His verdict for The Observer was succinct and spot-on. But that shabby second half at Turf Moor left Pete Sixsmith with plenty more to say …
Standing in the away end at Turf Moor at half time, I received a text from a Burnley supporting mate, sat in the Bob Lord Stand to the right of the Wearside hordes. “I’ll settle for a point,” was the message. Full of optimism, (and probably cockiness), I texted back “I won’t.” Hubris strikes!!
I honestly believed that we would go on and win the game in the second half. We had dominated the first 12 minutes until Ferdinand gave away a stupid penalty, had got back into the game, scored a quality equaliser and had pushed Burnley so far back, they were almost in Todmorden. Half time couldn’t come quickly enough for them.
In between texting and giving out our super duper new business cards, Paul Dobson and myself considered the best time to bring on Kenwyne so he could destroy the struggling Andre Bikey. Twenty minutes in was the considered opinion, by which time we would probably be ahead and we could really hammer home our established Premier League superiority. Aah, hubris again.
Clearly Owen Coyle worked hard on his team at half time and their second half performance enhanced his reputation as a very, very good manager. His instructions were to squeeze, squeeze and then squeeze a little bit more. Don’t let them play the ball behind you, force them into short passes or hopeful punts and they will make errors.
I would imagine The Brucester would be saying something like don’t let them squeeze you, play the ball to feet, look for the quick ball to get round the back of them. You can see which set of players listened the most carefully.
The game hinged on the substitutions. Eagles and Nugent (surely the name for a soap opera brewery) came on and had a very positive impact. They replaced Fletcher (who played well for half an hour) and Patterson (who looked out of his depth). Still, we could cope with two failed Premier League players because on came our big name, Kenwyne Jones. There was some surprise that he replaced the creative Malbranque, but here we go. Open the game up, three good points and a pleasant ride home. Even more hubris!!
Eagles ran at an increasingly desperate McCartney, threw over a wonderful cross and Nugent got there first to rattle in a powerful header.
Plenty of time to get back, or so we thought, but our quality factor had disappeared as Reid was forced to drop back and help the hapless McCartney.
We began to resemble a group of posh school kids who had been rumbled by the oiks from the Comp down the road and who, despite having better rucksacks and calculators, were unable to get the time or opportunity to show off their goodies. Cattermole was a real miss; Richardson was very ordinary and patience may well be running thin with him; it certainly was in the away end.
So, to sum up; for 45 minutes we looked good: crisp passing, inventive moves, solid defending (Ferdinand’s aberration apart). In other words, a real top eight club.
In the second half we looked like a typical Sunderland side: hesitant, careless and incapable of seizing the initiative. In other words, a bottom half club
Bruce must have had his eyes opened by this one and one or two may well be looking for an escape clause from Wearside in January, while Da Silva and Mensah will be expecting first team starts sooner (much sooner!) rather than later.
As for Burnley, if they play like this they will stay up comfortably. They have a manager with tactical nous, players who are relishing the big league and a crowd that gets behind the team. It may get harder as suspensions and injuries take their toll and teams work out how to play against them. But Portsmouth, Bolton and Hull are already struggling and Coyle is shrewd enough to know where he can pick up points. I would imagine he had this one targeted as a possibility rather than a probability.
Apart from the result, I enjoyed my return to football as it was in the 70s: wooden seats, cramped toilets, unhelpful policing and a half time competition that should have been introduced and refereed by the ghosts of Eddie Waring and Arthur Ellis. Thank heavens Stuart Hall wasn’t there!!