Our immediate post-match thoughts naturally concerned Sunderland’s own safety, not that this had been in serious doubt since we learnt how to win again a few games ago. But spare some sympathy for Burnley, now in need of a miracle to survive. Pete Sixsmith offers a consoling arm …
If there is one thing we Sunderland fans know about, it’s relegation. At one stage of this season, I thought that there was a possibility of us being sucked into the scuffle at the bottom. But I took solace from the fact that Hull City and Burnley were in the bottom three and were unlikely to escape.
Nothing I saw on Saturday made me change my mind. We spent the afternoon looking like a competent Premier League side, while our visitors were a pot model of a team heading back to the Championship.
It could have been a comfortable victory – instead we were hanging on a wee bit at the end. Chances were spurned, particularly in the first half, but we scored two good goals and, until Burnley brought Robbie Blake on, they never looked like worrying us.
It was an interesting team selection, with three youngsters in midfield and Kenwyne up front with the always impressive Player of the Year, Bent. The energy of Henderson, Meyler and Campbell, complemented by the sublime skills of Steed Malbranque, never allowed Burnley to get into the game.
They defended badly and for once we were able to take advantage of it. Both goals came partly as a result of shocking marking and of a midfield and a defence that just wasn’t quick enough to deal with players as good as Bent and Jones.
There was muted criticism of Jones which I found difficult to understand. He led the line well, won nearly every important header against Cort, played some strong stuff on the ground and won two very important headers in our box in the closing, rather panicky closing moments. But still people have a go at him. I wonder why……
So, we are settling into midtable and our eyes are fixed on that magical 10th place which is the personification of midtable obscurity. It’s a position we would have happily settled for in August and I am quite happy with it now.
There are signs that we can push on next season with a couple of additions to the squad. Hutton is a must. He had another impressive game yesterday until he tired. Poor sides like Burnley give him huge amounts of room and he pushes forward really well. The first goal was as a result of him moving powerfully into space and taking Kieran Richardson’s excellent pass,.
The other full back position is an interesting one. Richardson did well enough yesterday, but had nobody up against him. He goes forward well and his tough tackle set up the opener. However, I’m not sure whether this is a long term solution or a case of needs must. Can’t Kilgallon play at left back?
The midfield did well and sheer energy allowed them to dominate. The three youngsters have done well in games like this, although a Cattermole or Cana would do the nasty stuff better than these guys can. But we are strengthening our squad, building up experience and making sure that we can retain our position as Top Team In The North East next season.
As for Burnley , well they will have taken some positives and a lot of money from their season in the Premier League. On Saturday they looked as out of their depth as we did four years ago and they will know that effort (plenty of it) is no substitute for quality (precious little of it).
As a club, they bring more to the Premier League than some and I would much rather visit Turf Moor than soulless places like the DW and Britannia Stadiums. But it’s a cruel league and the likes of Duff, Elliott and Alexander are just not up to Premier League football. I would love to see them become the new West Brom, bouncing up and down between the leagues, but I’m afraid I don’t see it. Sorry Alastair and Duncan.
Next week at Hull, we must win and complete our second double of the season. City have been the opposite of Burnley and have thrown money at players in an attempt to stay up. Surely we can beat a team that features the likes of McShane, Kilbane and Jan Vennegor of Hesselink – can’t we?