Malcolm Dawson writes….Pete Sixsmith and I had different opinions on the trip to the game yesterday. He thought that this could be a defining moment – a win would mean we could look forward to a a relatively comfortable rest of the season but a loss would result in another year of constant struggle and perpetual fighting in the relegation cock pit. My view was that I wanted to see the impact of the new boys and some seeds of hope that we could turn a corner, if not immediately then in the weeks to come. Losing was obviously not what I hoped for but a good performance was what I wanted to see. I shared Dick’s concerns that a lack of match fitness might limit Borini and Toivonen’s contributions but that with a few games under their respective belts they would lift the side and inject some much needed pace into the team. I expected them both to start. Pete thought the manager would go with Danny Graham and bring the Italian on later in the game. What neither of us predicted was a start for Jordi Gomez. And for two thirds of the game we saw a side that looked like they had played together for ages. Borini started on the left and Lens on the right. We had pace on the flanks and pace down the middle. Kaboul, another signing who had lacked sufficient pre-season action, showed how much a player can improve after a few games to sharpen up their stamina. This could well be Dick’s preferred starting XI and once fit should prove to be a handful for most sides we meet in this league if they continue to gel the way they did yesterday. Pete’s pre-match prediction may well still prove him right as we still haven’t played any of the so called title contenders and we are becoming desperate for a win, but this was nothing like the performance we saw against Norwich. Then I was wondering if a season ticket had been a good idea. Now I feel we have something worth watching. Here’s Peter’s take on proceedings from his usual seat in the East Stand.
It could have been a momentous weekend. On Saturday, the Labour Party elected a dyed in the wool socialist as its leader for the first time since Keir Hardie in 1905. Many rejoiced, others shook their heads in dismay, but all accepted that it was something radically different.
Something equally radically different was going to be needed 24 hours later at The Stadium of Light if we were to win our first game of the season and move up to the heady heights of 13th and plonk Chelsea into the relegation zone. And although we got closer to Spurs than Burnham, Cooper and Kendall did to Saint Jeremy, we still lost. For half the game we were the better side. For a quarter of the game, it was even-stevens. But for the final quarter, the one that really, really mattered, it was Spurs who showed their pedigree and won the game with a well worked goal from the tidy Ryan Mason.
We trooped out in disappointment. We had seen the team play well for much of the game and play very well for parts of it. The general consensus was that we like Toivonen, we very much like M’Vila and it was good to see Borini back. But there was that nagging, worrying feeling that we cannot yet finish teams off – and a patchy Tottenham side were there for the taking in the first half. The football we played was crisp and sharp and the players seemed to know what they were supposed to do. A year ago to the day, Spurs took us apart in the early stages of the game but there was to be none of that this year. Last year we had a debutant lining up in Ricky Alvarez, who spent twenty minutes wondering where the ball was. This year, we had the return of Fabio Borini who was involved from the very start.
What we needed was for Borini to open the scoring with one of those searing runs that he has. We didn’t get it, but we did get a performance that showed that he has an appetite for the game in general and Sunderland AFC in particular. He used his upper body strength to out muscle Tottenham defenders, ran into space and seemed to form a footballing “relationship” (nothing to worry about, Erin) with Van Aanholt and, later on, Jones. He never really looked like scoring but he brought zest to a forward line that, for the first time in a long time, had some pace and craft and skill in it.
No Fletcher and no Graham meant that Defoe got his chance to play through the middle and he looked a far more effective player there than he does when he is wide. He could, perhaps should, have scored when he hit the post in the first half when he outstripped a ponderous Spurs defence but his link up play was excellent and he was involved for much of the game – not something that always happens when he is made to play wide.
On the right side of the three, Lens had another effective game. He can dribble and he can pass. He can shoot and he can cover his full back. He is another player known to Advocaat who clearly fits in with the system that he wants to play. Compare Lens and Toivonen with Buckley and Bridcutt, the previous Head Coach’s “known players,” and it’s like comparing Timothy Taylors Landlord with Watneys Red Barrel.
But we did slip up and that looks to be as a result of a lack of match fitness and some disappointing performances from our substitutes. Toivonen was clearly struggling from the 60th minute while Gomez also found a full game difficult. Both played well. The Swede is a big man. He wins challenges in midfield and could be a very important player as the season progresses. His strength is in contrast to Gomez, a relatively lightweight player, but one who can pick out a pass and has the knack of being in the right place at the right time. The one thing they have in common is that they are footballers with experience and they are not quite the pampered products of the English academy system.
As they went off, Cattermole and Rodwell appeared – and both have to share some blame for the Spurs goal, well worked as it was. Cattermole in particular showed a complete lack of awareness as Mason and Lamela sashayed through the defence.
It was a well worked and well taken goal, but one that provoked groans in the East Stand as we could see that our midfield had stopped picking up. Rodwell hit the bar a few moments later and a draw would have been the least we deserved but it was not to be and another opportunity to get up and running was lost. But there were positives to take from this viz:
O’Shea and Kaboul look a solid central defensive pairing, with Kaboul doing the running and O’Shea the organising. Kaboul looks match fit. Yann M’Vila may be the “bad boy of French football,” but he can play the game. His passing and tackling were outstanding throughout. He is another one who will be even better when fully match fit.
A similar result last year (and the year before, the year before that …. ad infinitum) would have been met with groans and a few boos. This was met with warm applause as the support can see that there is a different footballing philosophy at the club. Having said all this, we need to start winning games. Bournemouth on Saturday is an important one as they are a mere two points above us. But the bottom of the table is not a nice place to be – but we may well be off it if West Ham can find some home form tonight.