What a man. It appears Roy Keanes brief meeting with the players yesterday and his mere attendance today can inspire the players to give a performance that was so far removed from those given previously this season. That’s how the national media will dress it up no doubt anyhow, and there may be some truth in this but I prefer to give the credit for this result and performance to Quinn and Saxton.
And what a performance, compared to the other 5 offered up so far this season. It seemed like it was a different team altogether out there today, yet its only 6 days since the debacle at Bury. It appears a week really is a long time in football. Straight after that defeat Sunderland were arguably at the lowest ebb that they ever had been. Bottom of the league and then knocked out of the cup by bottom of the entire football league in Bury. There seemed nowhere to go and no win in sight. Then the Roy Keane story surfaced. It seemed to wash away the memory of Bury quickly and suddenly people weren’t laughing at Sunderland anymore. The players obviously picked up on this new found optimism (or feared for their careers with their new manager watching from the stands) and put in the performance that they should have done 3 weeks ago and that we all know they can. Now with the first win and 3 points on the board it’s like the season can properly start now.
So to the game, and another style of play and further changes in personnel were tried. Chris Brown was brought back to lead the line with Elliott wide right and new signing Tobias Hysen on the left. Whitehead and Leadbitter were joined by Lawrence in a midfield 3 and Robbie Elliott made his home debut. It was a 4-5-1 come 4-3-3 affair that worked very well. From the start Sunderland were always on top and largely dominated possession and territory. Half chances came fairly regularly but 2 great chances for Hysen and Brown from close range should have been put away. Both went wide however.
It was during a spell of good pressure that we got the first goal. A Whitehead corner was swung over and was volleyed away on the line, however it was evident from the players’ reactions it was over the line and sure enough the linesman gave it. It was important that we scored then; you must always score when you’re on top and that was one thing that failed to happen all too often last season. The players now had confidence; they weren’t frightened to get on the ball and weren’t frightened to try things in case they didn’t come off.
Half time saw the introduction of Kevin Phillips. But for Keane his return would have been the biggest story of this week, particularly with him turning us down in signing for the Baggies, but it all seemed less important now. He was given a mixed reception, plenty clapped him but there were quite a few jeers too which probably sums up the feeling towards him at present. I don’t have an opinion on him anymore, we’ve all moved on now, yes I’d have still liked him back as he still has a lot to offer I believe but he chose not to and that’s his choice. But Phillips’ time at Sunderland is consigned to history now, where it belongs.
The 2nd half couldn’t have started any better, good work by Chris Brown on the right flank won us a free kick. It was swung in by Hysen and met perfectly by a bullet header by Neil Collins. It was a great start and gave us a much needed cushion and it off-set any nervousness that may have crept in. It’s worth noting that both goals today were from set-pieces. This was another much improved area particularly with Whiteheads corners.
After the second goal we were always in control, the shape meant we always had a spare man in midfield and invariably used it well. Whitehead ran the game. Considering his performances so far this season this was back to his best of 2 seasons ago. He sat in front of the back four and gave, dare I say it, a Keane-esque performance. Lawrence too was far-improved and cut out the daft stuff and got stuck in. Elliott tried but still doesn’t look right and Hysen did well on his debut. He kept hitting the first man with his crosses in the first half but was a good outlet and looks to have some talent. Up front Chris Brown had his best game in a Sunderland shirt by a mile. He won everything in the air, gave little away, held the ball up well, brought the other players in to play and was always in the box when the cross came in. Without his performance the team wouldn’t have played so well as this kind of system demands so much on the front man but Brown stood up to the job today. It’s still to be seen what Keane wants from his front men (apart from goals obviously) but Brown did himself no harm today if he wants an old-fashioned target man.
West Brom were largely poor, Hartson looked slow and cumbersome up front and they never really got in gear. A few half chances came their way in the 2nd half, the best of which was a free kick that Alnwick got down well to save. However they never really looked like scoring. They have a decent side though and will certainly be up there at the end of the season.
As the end drew near the crowd really got behind the team and in injury time, with victory assured, the fans could relax and enjoy the certainty of victory for a few minutes. How long is it since that happened? Full time came and you’d think we’d won the league. Players cheered off, Elvis was back on the sound system, 3 points and happy days again. Although were still second bottom its amazing what a win can do. But this must now be the standard for the rest of the season, the players owed the fans this performance and many more like it so lets not get too carried away.
This win though and this week is a triumph for Quinn, he’s finally got his win that no-one could deny him because he’s such a great bloke and when many started to doubt him in what he’s trying to do at the club he’s pulled an Ace out the pack in getting Keane. It says everything about what Quinn wants to do here and for 2 days this week Sunderland were the talk of the sporting world.
So the must win game has been won finally and Keane takes over a suddenly healthier looking club. The next 3 days will be viewed with interest as to who, if anybody he brings in before the transfer deadline closes. He now has 2 weeks though until his first game so has time to settle in but with back to back away games to Derby and Leeds the Honeymoon period won’t last long.
Man of the match – Dean Whitehead
Report by Marcopaul