As the end of the season draws closer and you can count the amount of games left on one hand, the margin of error is so small any blip or mistake now could cost the teams at the top dear. So going into the last 6 games of the season easily the best form team in the division, its fair to say Sunderland are less likely to slip up than the other teams. However the chances of recovery if a slip were to occur are that much worse as we began this Easter weekend last in a 3 horse race.
If Sunderland are to go up in the top 2, games at home are must wins and despite Wolves being right up there in the play-offs this was no different. There were a lot of side issues to today’s game, not least the first return of Mick McCarthy since last season’s debacle and also first returns for Gary Breen and Neil Collins. The fact the sun was shining, it was Easter weekend, and it’s only a week since our chairman increased his legendary status still further all contributed in a crowd of over 40 thousand. That and that fact we have a decent team at the minute too. Those extra 10 thousand really do make a difference to the atmosphere.
With 2 games in 3 days Keane shuffled things round (nothing new there though) and left Connolly out clearly with Monday in mind, a vote of confidence in his squad if ever there was one. The best piece of team news though was that Carlos Edwards was back and starting, he changes the way the side plays and provides such a threat down the right that not only can he create so much himself, this stretches teams and gives other players more room.
The contest started in a good fashion with a crisp pace to it and it was clear Wolves didn’t come here just for the draw. If the opposition have some quality it always adds to the spectacle and this was one of the reasons for one of the better games seen at home this year. Immediately Edwards was a menace down the right, providing good crosses and Murphy and John were clearly a threat in the air and a constant menace particularly in the first half. The goal that opened the game up was further demonstration of Murphy’s quality on the ball. Wallace crossed from the left into the feet of the Irishman, the ball ballooned up, he turned his markers, controlled it on his chest and placed his finish past Murray in the Wolves goal.
Further chances to extend the lead came from Stern John in particular who couldn’t have been closer to scoring, with a close range shot being well saved then a glanced shot from an Edwards cross hitting the post and rolling back along the line into the keepers arms. That was on the stroke of half time, if that had gone in you’d fancy it was game over, however you knew Wolves would come back in it. Ward pulled off a great save from a header and only some terrific defending, again, from the back four kept further Wolves chances few and far between.
Nyron Nosworthy again was an impregnable force at the back. A few times he found himself in last ditch one on one tussles with the strikers but his sheer pace and strength gets him out of trouble every time. It’s a role that very much suits him – deal with the threat and get rid. He does it very well. Its unfair, however to single out just Nosworthy for praise each time as each of the back four contributed just as much.
Sunderland extended their lead through further great play from Murphy, he cut in from the right, into the box, lifted a cross to the back post where and unmarked Ross Wallace headed home. A very well worked goal and at that point it was game over. Except 2 minutes later Wolves got another straight back. Evans missed a header in the box and the ball fell to Keogh who smashed the ball home to make it a close contest again.
After that Wolves failed to carve out any decent opportunities and only a last ditch tackle prevented Stephen Elliott a goal on his return.
Another 3 points, more ground gained on the other 2 of our mini race and the pressure seems to be getting to them. We still have to rely on at least one of the other teams dropping points from their remaining games to finish in the top 2 but you can’t help but feel they’ll do this. If we can go to Southampton on Monday and win then the race is all but won and promotion gained.
Man of the match – Nyron Nosworthy
Report by marcopaul