The Black Cats’ delusions of grandeur apart, a home win is pretty much the result we should be looking for against Bruce’s men. Fulham didn’t walk away with a “we should be beating sides like this” and anyone with any sense will tell you that it was the two results either side of the Spurs debacle that reflect Latics’ abilities and prospects this season rather than the walloping in-between.
Still, for Latics. This game was as much about the performance, the reaction to the Spurs defeat, as it was the scoreline and the early signs weren’t completely positive. Yes Latics dominated possession and pressed and harried the opposition when they didn’t have the ball, but that amounted to fairly little in the sum of things.
Nerves were to be expected, but in the first half an hour or so here they were crippling as Latics’ defensive players resorted to the “four or five passes across the back four to pretend and then let’s lump it up front”. We looked as direct as we did at anytime under Bruce as players were either hiding or looked painfully rusty. Then, as time ticked on and everyone realised that Sunderland weren’t going to pose the threat you’d expect from a team that had just beaten Arsenal the confidence rolled in and the other, more watchable Latics turned up.
The one genuine chance of the first half fell to Jason Scotland, capitalising on N’Zogbia’s tenacity to hit the post. Scotland’s position (level with the near post) meant that the chance wasn’t the sitter that some would have you believe and he was desperately unlucky to see the ball rebound off the base of the post. I’m still on the fence over the lad, but he’s shown more all round already than Aghahowa did in his time with us and I’d love him to get a goal, if only to see if it gives him the confidence to push on from it.
Apart from a dodgy 10 minutes, where Sunderland had our defence reeling and Titus playing like he was in a Newcastle shirt, the biggest worry in the second half was that Latics wouldn’t get the win that their efforts deserved with our, now, staple attacking fayre of taking chances too early and over complicating matters yet again leaving fans with the frustration of watching mid-range shots land in the keeper’s arms and wingers running into dead ends, so often that I’m sure they’ve been studying Tony Daley for inspiration.
As we’ve seen, this other Latics are good at knocking, but (and especially at home) aren’t that good at actually getting through the door. But generally, as I’m sure Hugo Rodallega will tell you, if you keep knocking loud enough someone will let you in. And so it happened as the Sunderland defence failed to deal with a lobbed ball from Paul Scharner and allowed Hugo to turn in the box and slot home from an improbable angle.
Steve Bruce might want to talk about how his side went to sleep, but what does that matter, football is about taking the chances that are presented to you and anyone who wants to try and convince me that Rodallega’s finish was an easy one can just sod off.
It was almost plain sailing from there on in. There were a few late scares, a run of corners and a dummy from Bent that confused Frasier Campbell as much as anyone else. If Bent had taken it himself? Who knows, but I bet Jermaine Defoe would have got it on target. If there’s a genuine race to South Africa between those two then one of them is streets ahead (on performance not goals) on the last two games.
The last quarter of an hour seemed longer than the rest of the game, but eventually we got to the final whistle with three points intact. On the whole the game was probably as good a come back from a 9-1 drubbing as you can get. The early nerves were expected, but Latics overcame them to put in a rugged performance that fully deserved a win. The score line (and perhaps this report) is deceiving as Latics had the chances to make this much more comfortable.
Bobby has been peddling the Sir Alex line that it’s not defeat that brings humiliation, it’s not responding to it that marks you for shame. On that front Latics did fine, but recovering from a set-back like ours is more than a one stage process and beating Sunderland is hopefully just the first baby step on the way to the players achieving the mental strength and consistency that they’ll need to succeed at this level.
But enough of that waffle, I’m off to Harrods, I’ve heard there might be a fire sale this January, I’m sure that’s what Brucey said any way.
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