Life expectancy in the Sunderland area is fairly low compared to national levels. That of Sunderland supporters will be even lower I imagine; particularly if they had to watch too many afternoons of this kind of football. It was a win that looks far more comfortable on paper than it was and one that the statistics won’t tell the full story of.
Just for a change, we were playing a game we had to get something from. Not just something though, anything but a win would have been a disaster in all honesty. Cole was back up front, Miller restored after suspension and most significantly, Kieran Richardson started his first game for months. Bolton, despite being pretty rubbish and still in the ‘dogfight’ have a pretty talented team, particularly their front 3 of Anelka, Diouf and Davies.
Although everything about it told you this should have been a rubbish, scrappy game, it was pretty good in the first half and we played some good stuff at times. Richardson’s added quality helped with that and it was he who opened the scoring when a great ball from Jones, on the edge of the box, was smashed past Jaaskelainen with ease. It was an early goal similar to the Villa game but as that game proved you can’t sit on a one goal lead for too long so to keep attacking is imperative.
Bolton were easy to get at to be honest, as good as their front line is – when they are on their game, the defence is as weak. Kevin Nolan is their main man in midfield but he’s nowhere near the form he had a couple of years ago. We had good fluency to the play, Cole and Jones up front were a handful and Miller and Richardson’s slick passing always meant we looked as if we could threaten. The lead was doubled after the half hour when a Richardson corner was met with ease by the head of Jones. A 2 goal lead and playing well….it was all a bit surreal.
It was too good to last of course and 10 minutes later after a period of pressure from Bolton a free kick was given away on the edge of the box. Diouf took it and it was one of those where it’s not a shot but not really a cross either and leaves the keeper in no-mans-land. No-one got a touch and it drifted into the net. Lead halved. I don’t think Gordon was to blame but we’ve conceded from 4 direct free kicks in the last few games and that’s too many. Bolton continued the pressure until half time and it was a relief when the whistle blew so we could re-group.
The second half carried on like the first half finished and consisted of us sitting back on the lead and Bolton desperately trying to break us down, usually with long balls. It was clear that all out defence wasn’t the game plan but with the nerves of the situation and not having won in a while it was probably natural for the players to go deep and try and defend what they have rather than keep playing positively. Keane made it 5 in the middle by bringing O’Donovan and Murphy on in wide areas but this didn’t make a difference and just meant the ball came back faster. When we did get possession all that was on was a long ball up field, whereby Jones had the thankless task of running round after lost causes.
Despite being implored by the crowd to push out they didn’t and as time went on the clearances got more desperate and the nerves more frayed. To be fair in all of this Bolton never created anything so credit goes to the defence for that but against a better team you feel they would have broke down the resistance eventually. Hopefully in not such a tense situation (Blackburn on Wednesday for instance) we wouldn’t play this way all the time when a goal up.
Despite the fans natural pessimism whereby you just wait for an almighty cock-up somewhere with Sunderland, time ticked on and as it got into injury time it looked as though Bolton were a spent force and we may just get away with this one. Then a long ball from Gordon that found Murphy in space, who slotted home with his left, finished it properly and for about 45 seconds we could savour a nerve-less 2 goal lead, knowing we were going to win. I can’t remember the last time that happened.
Out of the bottom 3 and the transfer window upon us. What will 2008 have in store for us?