Immediately before 3pm, Anthony Taylor and Lee Cattermole shook hands, both proud to be performing new roles for the first time: one as a Premier referee, the other as captain of Sunderland AFC. The amity lasted less than three-quarters of an hour. Was Lee the victim of an overzealous debutant, or clattering Cattermole? This, ladies and gentlemen is how Pete Sixsmith saw things …
Thanks to Colin for the kind words in his introduction to Sixer’s Sevens. I’m not sure that my analysis is always first rate as I have more mood swings than a nightclub full of hormonal females over the course of a season. Brilliant one week, hopeless the next – but it is Sunderland we are talking about……
However it doesn’t take the perceptions of a Hugh McIlvanney , a David Lacey or a Frank Johnson to work out that the combination of a rookie ref and Lee Cattermole was liable to end in tears. And it did as our captain was given his marching orders just before half time for two offences that barely deserved a yellow card in common sense terms, but which did in refereeing by the book terms.
His dismissal meant that instead of a comfortable win, we were hanging on for a point against opponents who never threatened in the first half and who were comprehensively outplayed for 44 minutes. And then that chemical reaction of a dash of recklessness and a soupcon of inexperience changed the game.
Cattermole was most at fault. He had a yellow card for whatever reason and to go charging in, particularly on someone as wily and devious as Lee Bowyer, was irresponsibility at its peak. Mr Taylor took his time before reaching for his pocket, and Cattermole’s dejected trudge off the pitch and down the tunnel brought the first half to an end – and with it our hopes of starting the season well.
Two years ago, I wrote in The Observer that I could not understand why managers employ people like Cattermole, after he was sent off for Wigan when he clattered into one of our players. When Bruce signed him, I had reservations. Those have never really gone away and after last season, when he picked up cards like a hyped up Pannini collector, I worried that he was a marked man.
I would imagine that had Mr. Taylor been perusing the Optima Stats, he would have noticed that Cattermole had x number of fouls against his name. As a rookie on the full time list, maybe that had an impact on him; “I need to stamp down on Cattermole. Book him early and there’ll be no more bother”. He did and there was.
Up until then, we had looked good without ever being really convincing. The first goal was a penalty, awarded after the hapless Carr brought down Campbell. Mr Taylor looked at his Assistant, who indicated that it was inside the box. It may not have been. Bent put it away comfortably.
Birmingham were so poor in the first half that our defenders and the keeper were practically redundant. Going forward we played some decent stuff, with Elmohamady (that’s the latest spelling), showing some excellent touches on the ground and in the air. He has pace and can take a full back on. He may struggle in the depths of winter, but the firm grounds of August and September appear to suit him very well.
The own goal in the second half was a bonus. That it came from a former Mag was even better. He had a miserable afternoon. He gave away the penalty, put through his own net and was then taken off to avoid a second yellow. He was Birmingham’s captain, so the armbands had two distinguished wearers.
We looked like we would hold on until Alex McLeish made two astute substitutions. “The tallest man in the Premier League” (you read it first here, folks), Zigic and Gardener came on and both caused us problems. Gardner carried the ball effectively and allowed Larsen to push forward. He’s an underrated player and looked a better bet than either Bowyer or Ferguson, who may find that time and opponents have caught up with them this season.
Zigic created a bit of a flap in our previously cool as ice defence and it put collective pressure on the whole team. He didn’t win a great deal, but he drew defenders towards him and allowed space in the box for others.
Both goals came from set pieces; both were poorly defended; both needed a top class keeper to claim them. Mignolet was at fault for the first and, although the second was a superb ball in by Larsen, he could have come for it.
Mensah had an excellent game and almost got us through at the end. He played a full 90 minutes (about as rare last season as Cattermole not being booked) and one tackle was outstanding, nay, breathtaking. He went down injured once, to a collective “oh no” from the disappointing 38,000 crowd, but got up again without the need for attention.
Bramble did well, although it was his wayward header that gave away the corner for the first goal and Onuoha looked the answer at right back. Richardson did ok but will have more stringent tests as the season unfolds.
It was good to see Riveros and he made one or two telling passes and interceptions. He could have done better when through on goal and he lost the ball in midfield, leading to the free kick from which came the scruffy, pokey, damned frustrating equaliser.
Still, more positives than negatives, and we should be confident about taking points off a poor looking Baggies side next week. Cattermole will be missing and I would imagine Riveros will fill that gap. There may be a new forward in as well, as we look a little light up front. But we are a marked team after our shocking disciplinary record last year and the management need to instil a greater sense of responsibility in the key players if we are to progress.
Brian Glanville eat you heart out!!