I had the privilege of going to yesterday’s game between Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland at White Hart Lane.
Sitting in the West Upper stand, I occasionally caught site of Martin O’Neill pointing and shouting out instructions from the sideline below us. One thing you’d associate with Martin.
His side did their best to make for a dull affair by closing down the opposition as best they could. At 0-0, neither Rafael van der Vaart or Luka Modric could get too much influence on the game. The latter however may have set up his team mates or more than one occasion but for over hit passes. The former narrowly deflected a Benoit Assou-Ekotto drive narrowly wide from in front of goal.
A delightful pass from the Dutchman did setup the winning goal on the hour for substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko who’s pinpoint accuracy from 18 yards gave Keiren Westwood no chance in the Sunderland goal. Prior to that, Tottenham’s chances had been limited and very few clear cut. Against a side who had scored 30 goals in 14 league games prior to this, Sunderland’s defence stood firm.
Yes, Luka Modric should have doubled the lead later. Fortunately for the Croatian, his contender for miss of the season didn’t cost Spurs three points. This result increases Spurs’ winning streak to six in a row at White Hart Lane in the Premier League, keeping clean sheets in four of them.
As for Sunderland, their lack of firepower up front was emphasised by Steve Bruce earlier in the season. Their 18 goals in 16 games isn’t the worst in the league but O’Neill needs to find a goalscoring striker as Nicklas Bendtner currently leads the front line with 2.
Steve Bruce’s side had been plummeting since the sale of Darren Bent in January and narrowly avoided relegation at the end of last season. The former Manchester United captain had not left Sunderland in the best of positions, but the club in my opinion made the right choice to relieve him of his duties with the former Aston Villa, Leicester City and Celtic manager lined up as his replacement.
Stephane Sessegnon, who plays just behind Connor Wickham/Bendtner also has 2 goals to his name. Set piece taker Sebastian Larsson who plays on the right wing leads the team with 5 goals. The January transfer is approaching for Martin O’Neill to work his magic… or bring in Emile Heskey.
Larsson had a free kick saved by Brad Friedel in the first half, whilst it was his cross that could have set up Kieran Richardson with the opening goal of the game as he burst into an unguarded six yard box only for the Swede’s pass to be behind the former Manchester United player.
It’s 3 points from 2 games under Martin O’Neill’s side now. And although they sit just 1 point above relegation I do not see the Black Cats being involved in a relegation scrap at the end of the season. Top half is more likely in my opinion.
Before the new year, Sunderland travel to Queens Park Rangers and then host Everton on Boxing Day. There’s no reason why these can’t be two wins for O’Neill’s side, and I can certainly see them taking 2 or 4 points from these fixtures combined. Before they face Manchester City on New Year’s Day.