At long last, Sunderland are showing signs of being the useful team we thought Steve Bruce had assembled when we were beating Arsenal and Liverpool and getting so close to victory at Old Trafford.
Pete Sixsmithawards warm praise where it’s due, but wishes we could have kept those signs evident for 94 minutes, not just 45 …
If you had been a Martian visiting our planet and been told there was a football match taking place between the richest club on Earth and a team struggling at the wrong end of the table, and the person telling you had forgotten to mention which team was which, you would have assumed yesterday that the one in Red and White stripes represented Croesus and the Blues were the strugglers.
You would have revelled in a performance of the Red and Whites’ centre forward who won everything in the air, caused untold problems for the poor Blues’ centre half (clearly a bargain plucked from the lower divisions) and who scored a quite superb goal.
The two centre halves of the Red and Whites would have astonished you with their ability to think and react quicker than the blues forwards, particularly the one with Mensah written on his back, while the defender called Hutton impressed you with his speed and firm tackling.
In the central areas of the game, that little fellow exhaling a cloud of scented smoke, Malbranque, burrowed his way into the heart of the relegation threatened visitors and the youngster known as Meyler won all the battles he had with his opponents.
As you went to the executive lounge for your three cups of tea and three plates of sandwiches (one for each head), you would have been astonished to hear that it was the Blue team who were rolling in oil money and were looking for a place in the Champions’ League.
Well, that’s how it seemed to me at half time. We produced a 45-minute spell as good as anything seen at the Stadium since Reid’s team were consistent winners in the early days of this century. It was a performance of commitment and intelligence, with the players named above outstanding.
Jones was awesome and if he leaves in the summer, a huge fee needs to be negotiated – which probably rules out Liverpool. Mensah was superb at the back with his ability to think quickly and move into the space where his brain tells him to go. He has a good balance with Turner who captained the side well. His short ball to Meyler, who had hardly had a touch in the opening phase of the game set up the goal.
However, only one goal to show and there was a feeling in the Gents that City had to improve in the second half. Bent and Campbell had spurned decent chances after Jones’s opener and you have to take them.
Mancini had obviously given his side a severe talking-to at half time and they came out with a completely different attitude and approach. Over the 45 minutes, they probably deserved a point, but I was disappointed with them, not just for their play but for their attitude.
Bellamy, Tevez, SWP (surely the only player to have the same initials as a political party, unless I have missed Barry Norman-Pratt) , De Jong, Santa Cruz and Richards all twisted and moaned and tried to put pressure on Chris Foy. Richards could have had a red for a shocking tackle on Steeeed, while SWP showed all the negative character traits passed on by his father and none of the determination he showed when things were going badly.
When he went off and Johnson came on, I thought that this would all end in tears and it did. He took his goal well and he looks a genuine prospect for South Africa. Pity Bruce didn’t sign him.
At the end of the game, there was a feeling we had thrown points away, but as we walked back to the car, that disappointment was tempered with the feeling that we had matched a team that has genuine hopes of Champions’ League football. They spent the equivalent of our last season’s losses on Joleon Lescott, who was not a patch on the excellent Mensah.
Craig Gordon silenced any doubters with as good a display of goalkeeping as you will see. He is a top notch keeper and his calming influence on the back four is very important. Puts to bed for ever the “debate” about whether it should be Gordon or Fulop between the sticks.
What of City? Not quite “Champions’ League, you’re having a laugh” but they don’t look anywhere near the finished article. Mancini is prepared to change things and it was a smart move to replace Bridge with Santa Cruz; it wasn’t the managers fault that Santa Cruz was ineffective.
I was disappointed with their support. They did not sell out their allocation and they were very, very quiet until the closing stages when their team began to turn the screw. Maybe they are not entirely convinced about the direction they are going in. I would be interested to hear their responses.
Birmingham up next and we are without Kenwyne, who looks as if he could be out for a while. Hopefully Benjani will seize his opportunity and fire us up the league. I think we are looking up instead of looking down.