Salut! Sunderland welcomes a new contributor, Grant Tunkel*, an American journalist drawn to SAFC by the signing of Jozy Altidore. Altidore gets a lot of stick. Some of this, M Salut, feels, is unfair given the thankless role he often plays and the pitiful service he receives. What is difficult to overlook, however, is that he is a striker who doesn’t score and that, to put it mildly, is a serious defect. For his first piece, Grant reflects on the big man’s form and offers some encouragement. California Dreaming is a first thought as generic title for his offerings and, as is our custom with practitioners of other forms of English, the Americanisms remain. NB: ‘behoove’, a verb seen here for the first time, has impeccable Old English origins . …
With kickoff Saturday at the Stadium of Light came a golden opportunity for Jozy Altidore.
The United States international seemed poised to build off one of his better performances of the season, as was Sunderland itself, after the red and whites’ derby drubbing of Newcastle a week earlier.
Momentum was squarely on Wearside heading into Saturday’s visit of Hull City. For Altidore, it provided a chance for a bit of redemption as well; the striker could break his scoring drought against his former employers.
But three minutes in, everything changed. Wes Brown was sent off for a last-ditch tackle after a Phil Bardsley giveaway. Sunderland were reduced to 10 men.
In a flash, Altidore went from a man on a mission to a man on an island. He and the Black Cats were soon behind and couldn’t recover.
That’s not to say that Altidore didn’t do his part.
As the lone man up top, with little forward support underneath, he nearly helped Sunderland equalize in the 44th minute. Altidore controlled right before the break and made a quick pass, which eventually led to Adam Johnson’s volleyed attempt on goal. Hull City keeper Steve Harper — a Newcastle man, it’s worth mentioning (but despite the pantomime booing, a Sunderland fan growing up – ed) – made the save, but it was SAFC’s first real threat toward goal.
After the break, both Altidore and the Cats seemed reinvigorated. A quick long ball from Vito Mannone in the 49th minute found its way to Altidore after the American used his physicality to win possession. Sunderland were unable to make much of the opportunity, but it was the type of play from Jozy that has been lacking this season, and an encouraging sign nonetheless.
Roughly five minutes later, John O’Shea’s nifty bit of footwork helped the ball find its way to Altidore, who set up Ki for a shot. The ball was deflected for a corner and the ensuing kick never amounted to much, but again, it was Altidore control and distribution that eventually gave Sunderland a breath of life.
With momentum on their side, the Black Cats seemed poised to chase an equalizer until Nikica Jelavic sealed the Tigers’ victory with a 62nd-minute header.
After Jelavic’s goal, Sunderland never truly threatened and Altidore was left to chase against a defensive-minded side.
Connor Wickham’s addition in the latter stages, which gave Sunderland a pair of strikers, was unable to spur the home side onward. When the final whistle blew, it was a defeat and a drop to 17th in the table rather than a third straight victory and a move upward.
So that leaves Altidore and Sunderland on the brink of the drop zone yet again heading into a midweek fixture against title-chasers Manchester City at The Etihad.
The American was a 77th-minute substitute in the November meeting at the Stadium of Light, which saw Sunderland secure a 1-0 victory. Altidore is likely to be a starter on Feb 12, but it would behoove him to leave the controlling and distributing duties to Ki and Liam Bridcutt in the midfield and make himself available in scoring areas.
On this day, however, Altidore did all he could to help Sunderland in an untenable situation.
Grant Tunkel: I’m a play-by-play broadcaster and multimedia journalist. As a broadcaster, I have called games for seven years at the professional and collegiate levels. As a journalist, I’ve covered stories ranging from the hiring of Lane Kiffin as the head football coach at the University of Southern California to the appointment of Jose Gomez as Archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Sunderland is my adopted team. My website is GrantTunkel.com.
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