Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson writes….
This has been a strange sort of season so far. Ensconced as we have been at the foot of the table for so much of the season, there has still been plenty of optimism around. Many of us have been of the opinion that Gus Poyet’s team would turn around the early season form and crawl up the table away from the relegation zone. A run of games that saw the team lose only twice in eleven games, one of which resulted in a trip to Wembley, should inspire confidence. But of course this is Sunderland and we are Sunderland supporters. The home games that remain should all be winnable, yes even Everton, but it is at home where the team has arguably been the most disappointing. Fulham and Aston Villa are two games which we thought should guarantee three points and both were frustrating to watch as we crumpled to defeat. It certainly makes attending games at the Stadium of Light difficult at times. Last night was another which added weight to that argument, but thankfully this time the result was the one we hoped for. Later than usual here is Pete Sixsmith’s measured view of the 1-0 victory over Stoke City …
Any victory is a good victory if you are in the kind of brown stuff that we have been in all season. A third league triumph on home soil and against a team that are down there with us has to be a cause for rejoicing and rejoice I did. We are out of the bottom three for the first time since August and a draw at Southampton – the only one we got under the absolutely not missed Paolo Di Canio.
We started off well and, for once, dictated the tempo. We got our reward when Borini stepped inside his marker and his strong shot was parried by Begovic for a rejuvenated Adam Johnson to slot the ball home from a tight angle.
And then it all went downhill.
Part of it was due to a decent performance from a Stoke City side who no longer play the game like a lumpen rugby league side. Bits of it are still there, but Mark Hughes has carried on the process that Tony Pulis began last year and has them playing a bit of football. No more long throws, no charging around crashing into timid defenders and no big forwards knocking faint hearted goalkeepers from pillar to post.
The first half was, as Joan Dawson said, “a game of two quarters” and Mannone made a couple of saves to keep us in front. Surely, we thought, the second half will see us take control again and cement a very important victory and Chelsea permitting, drag us to the heady heights of 17th.
Not really. In fact, there were times when we were hanging on as they hit the bar and we defended as desperately as we have all season. Even when they went down to ten men, they kept coming at us. Fortunately, they had so little quality up front that they failed to equalise. I felt that if they levelled they would go on to win.
They were down to ten because N’Zonzi caught Altidore and sent him tumbling over to earn a second yellow. It was a faint touch and our big American went down as if he had been hit by a wrecking ball, but it was a foul and the Stoke man had to go. Last man and a scoring opportunity, even though it was Jozy and the ball may well have ended up in Row Z.
Which is a little unfair on Jozy as he had a good game using his considerable upper body strength to his and the team’s advantage and giving Shawcross a turbulent time. Begovic made one very good save and he trooped off to a genuine round of applause and went some way to winning over the ever increasing band of sceptics who feel that scoring goals in the Eredivisie is akin to shooting fish in a barrel.
The midfield was less effective than usual because of a real lack of pace and strength. Cattermole has his
critics (me more than most) but he does put himself about and would have not allowed Adam the time and space that he had. It looks the former skipper’s days are numbered as Bridcutt comes in. Indeed, he may well be a Potter as you read this.
Not as effective as last Wednesday, where we chased and harried and passed the ball accurately. Here, we seemed to give the ball away far too much. Maybe the edginess of the crowd transmitted itself to the players or maybe the players found it hard to raise their game. Whatever it was, it was a nervy and jumpy night.
There were times in the second half when I wanted to crawl under the seat as we gave the ball away with regular monotony. I was bouncing in my seat towards the end as we allowed the ten men to come forward and lay siege to our goal. I groaned at every misplaced pass and began to howl like a dog as yet another clearance went straight to a green Stoke shirt.
Not great support I know, but it was born out of total frustration as I envisaged at least one point slipping away. For those sat around me who were far more placid and sanguine than I am, I can only plead passion – although it was probably misdirected.
And so we go into the derby with a sniff of a chance. There are new players in situ and I would imagine the three Argentinians will be sitting on the bench on Saturday. I will be sitting half way to the moon desperately hoping that we keep eleven men on the field and that we can pass the ball accurately enough to get behind the home team’s defence.
Ha’way the Lads!!!!!!