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Sunderland v Spurs, 07.04.12

(12.45 p.m.)

Attendance:- 39,335

Referee:- Mr. C. Foy
Assistants:- Mr. S. Bennett & Mr. J. Collin
Fourth Official:- Mr. L. Mason

Sunderland (4-4-1-1):- Mignolet; Bardsley (sub Richardson, 80), Kilgallon, Turner, Colback; Larsson, Gardner, Cattermole (Capt.) (sub Vaughan, 76), McClean; Sessegnon; Bendtner
(Armband to Bardsley, then Turner)

Subs not used:- Westwood; Bridge, Kyrgiakos; Meyler, Ji Dong-Won

Booked:- Larsson (simulation), Vaughan (foul on Lennon)

Spurs (4-2-3-1):- Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Parker (Capt.), Sandro (sub Lennon, 65); Van der Vaart (sub Defoe, 83), Modric, Bale; Adebayor (sub Saha, 77)

Subs not used:- Cudicini; Nelsen; Kranjcar, Livermore

Booked:- Sandro (foul on Kilgallon), Assou-Ekotto (foul on Sessegnon)

Failing to make an impression

Spurs might have gained a precious point in their quest for Champions League football, but we won’t know whether they did or not until the end of the season. We have clawed our way into third place for a day at least, but with Newcastle and Chelsea both winning their first Easter games, the race for top four places is going to the wire. Today at The Stadium of Light, Spurs were totally in control for the first 15 – 20 minutes, as the home side sat back as if they were the away team, determined not to concede, or allow their opponents a pathway to goal. With neither goalkeeper seriously tested all day, I suspect the TV audience was not entertained, and might have sought other distractions. Those of us in the ground maintained an Easter vigil to see if either side could score a goal.

Harry Redknapp chose the same starting line-up as had faced Swansea last Sunday, which was logical and expected. Martin O’Neill’s men looked as if they were in a 4-4-1-1 with Sessegnon supporting the midfield, and getting forward when the opportunity arose. Spurs had the first shot after 3 minutes, when Bale got almost to the bye-line on the left, and passed the ball back to Scott Parker. Parker provided a pass for Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who tried a left footed shot that passed just outside the goalkeeper’s left post.

Benoit was one of our most impressive players in the early stages, getting forward well, and demonstrating his usual cool tricks when called upon to defend. I wouldn’t say he supported Bale well, because this was one of those days when Bale’s position was hard to find on the field of play. Still, I suppose if that was hard for us, then Sunderland players must have wondered where to look for him too!

Sunderland had a shot after 8 minutes, with the ball falling to Craig Gardner, but the seagulls over the stand would have been more concerned than was Friedel. Two minutes later, Kyle Walker passed inside to Van der Vaart, who touched it on to Modric. Luka’s right foot shot was held by Mignolet. Through getting forward, Walker often left a little too much space on his flank to Sunderland’s rising star James McClean, but Spurs generally managed to overcome the threat towards their goal.

Walker was fouled in Sunderland territory after 12 minutes, and from the free kick, Adebayor’s header was cleared as far as Assou-Ekotto, who fired over. Referee Chris Foy (not Hoy) was trying to allow the game to flow, but this worked in favour of the more physical Sunderland players, in my view. I’d say the balance was 80/20 in their favour for the first half. Parker made a great midfield Interception mid-way through the half, sending the ball to Van der Vaart, who found Adebayor towards the left of the area. Adebayor should have created a shot on goal, but allowed the defence to clear.

Walker fouled McClean when he got goal-side of him, and from the free kick, Sunderland won a corner, but nothing more. At one point down near the corner flag, the referee’s assistant seemed to be persuaded by the home crowd to give a free kick, but that came to nought too. As the half drew to a close, Spurs were playing some good possession football, and tried to pick their way through the 9-man defence by taking a central path. Modric gave the final pass to Van der Vaart, whose effort was blocked.

Modric got down the left hand side of the area after 51 minutes, and cut the ball back, but Sunderland cleared, and there was no shot on goal. Shortly after that, Modric won a throw on the right, and the ball was sent to Bale who got into the right hand side of the area, returning it to Modric, before Van der Vaart fired over. Bale had a headed over the bar from an Assou-Ekotto cross.

Finally, Friedel was tested by a shot by the Sunderland right back Phil Bardsley.

Sandro was stupidly booked for a foul in Sunderland territory, and five minutes later was replaced by Lennon. Lennon had an immediate impact by passing inside to Van der Vaart, who hit a cross/shot that was surely handled by a defender, but ignored by the referee. This was surely the best handball chance of the game, where Sunderland had been asking for clear “ball to hand” situations to be punished earlier in the game.

Sadly, Sunderland had an effective game plan to deal with Lennon, which was to have about 4 players swarming around him whenever he got the ball after that. Mysteriously, there were times when Bale still appeared on Lennon’s flank, or centrally, rather than down that left side. Maybe we should have started a “You play on the left” chant. One wonders what instructions Gareth is given.

There is little of note to report regarding the remainder of the game, I regret to say. Former gooner Larsson got booked for simulation, outside the box. Both Louis Saha and Jermain Defoe got on, to little avail. Bale did make a good run from the half-way line, but ran into the defence, drawing jeers as he stayed down and hobbled to the touchline with an injury. He did re-enter the field, and we’ll see if he makes Monday’s game against Norwich.

I rather suspect this game will feature in the very closing stages of tonight’s match of the day!

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