This result brought back memories of last season with Evans and Nosworthy partnered up at the back and the memories were made even fonder after a great 2-0 win over a rejuvenated Portsmouth team. Two home games and six crucial points gained on the spin, is exactly what we needed in order to keep our heads above the murky waters of relegation. The main reason we have notched up these vital home points could be down to the man who saved WBA a few seasons ago and he is certainly enjoying the pressure of helping his new team stay in the Premier league, Kieran Richardson we salute you this evening!
Keane before the game had admitted his errors in the dismal and complete opposite performance against Wigan but promised the Sunderland faithful that we would see the ‘true Sunderland on Sunday’ – how right he was and a man of his word is something we must respect during his difficult time at the foot of the table. He made several changes to the team that never showed up last week and the team had a more stable feel to it, a team that looked as though they could start playing together more regularly and getting that connection that we have not seen too often this season importantly.
Paul ‘bull in a china shop’ Mcshane was dropped for his recent dip in form over the past few weeks and Jones came back to play a lone role up front to great effect after tearing Sol Campbell a new one for most of the afternoon. Keane stuck with the 4-5-1 formation and this seemed to work after a shaky 15 minutes we managed to settle the game down and create chances against a team who had won their last nine away games. This showed why Redknapp has been heralded as the best English manager in the Prem at the moment, but he is not joining the scum because he knows that they are simply gash!
Anthony Stokes was started on the right hand side of midfield and provided a constant threat and attacking outlet on the counter. Stokes was the first to test the ‘goalkeeper’ David James with a rather tame low effort but the signs were there from the off that we wanted to press on the Pompey back four and get the goal that would settle everyone’s nerves in the SoL. This was the best performance from Stokesy who was encouraging throughout the game and was always there to link up play from midfield up to Jones. His determination and effort was the reason why he shone in this game and if he can keep this level of performance up his potential that Keane spoke about pre match will be realised sooner rather than later.
The Pompey back four although they have been excellent all season looked more anxious than the Sunderland back four and this was proven when a low cross in allowed Stokes to have a clear chance. However, Jones and Whitehead never communicated on who wanted to strike the ball and this mix up led to a very poor effort saved by James.
Sunderland encountered their first major test from Portsmouth as a right wing free kick was met at the back stick by a firm header by Hreidarsson to allow Benjani acres of space in the six yard area. Fortunately for Sunderland his volley was put wide when it appeared it was harder to miss as he beat Gordon but could not find the target. This was a massive let off for Sunderland who started the game a little nervous and with no-one controlling the midfield.
After the relief of the missed chance the Sunderland fans began to roar on the lads in a hope we could create some better chances and find more space going forward. Yorke who looked slow for most of the first half made amends with a steady second half performance who kept the ball moving and found players in space that allowed us to push forwards on each occasion.
A mistake at the back by Distin led to the impressive Murphy to nick the ball from his foot to allow the chance to bomb forward for a shot. He did not manage to get the ball from under his feet and allowed the other defenders to get back and make the chance much more difficult. Murphy managed to get the shot in but it was weak and sent wide. This encouraged the fans even more and with constant yells and booming noise after every tackle was made this led to the opening goal.
A clearance by Evans was misjudged by sluggish Sol, and this allowed Jones to chase the nothing ball to the byline to allow the midfield to get into the middle. Jones, who was calm under pressure as usual, slid the ball into the path of the bursting Richardson who clipped the ball into the side netting and to make it two goals in his last three games at home. This was a massive goal and the relief to get on the score sheet relatively early (well for us it is!) was something that made the game feel much easier to watch than others. Once the game restarted it was obvious to see we had the game in control from here on out and this led to some very attractive football at times with no real threat from the woeful Nugent and rusty Benjani.
The back four dealt with every ball into the box with Nosworthy and Evans playing excellently at the back and allowing nothing to get past them, just like in the good old Championship last season. This relaxed squad passed the ball around great at times and Murphy and Stokes linked up well to allow Richardson to carve out the second goal just before half time.
Murphy ran at the Pompey defence and allowed the fast Richardson to blitz past the defence and strike the ball into the bottom corner for his third goal of the season. The fans could not believe that we were cruising in the first half and the calls of “Kieran Kieran Kieran” rang around the Stadium, much to his delight, and ours.
The second half started, rather oddly with Sunderland kicking towards me in the SWC and we began the second like we ended the first, hungry for another goal to finish of the blues for good. A low cross by the skillful Jones allowed Stokes to touch it into Richardson’s path on the edge of the box; his side footed effort just rose above the goal to deny him his hat-trick for his new club.
Richardson was denied again by the Pompey crossbar as he drifted into the centre and smacked the ball as clean as a whistle straight past the flapping James only to see the ball bounce back out, their defender, probably in shock from the amazing effort he had witnessed handled the ball in the box only for the referee to miss this and allow play to continue. It was hard luck for Richardson but a sign that his shooting from outside the box will be important in the run up to the end of the season.
It would not be a Wiggum’s Whinge without mentioning the refereeing and today was no exception as the linesman decided to infuriate the home fans by making some simply shocking decisions in the second half. He forgot how to judge what is on or offside as he flagged for Murphy who was clearly two yards behind the defender before he was slid in by Richardson. The referee did not want to let the linesman get all of the attention and he added to the show by getting in the way of most of our build up play and make some poor decisions to annoy everyone again at home.
Portsmouth created another chance in the 58th minute when Benjani was found in acres of space to send the ball past Craig Gordon but only to be denied by Jonny Evans on the line on two occasions. This was terrific defending by the new January recruit and this showed why Keane rates him so highly at the back as he kept a clean sheet for the first time in what seems like a decade.
Sunderland began to make changes with Leadbitter coming on for Stokes who deservedly received a standing ovation and then Mcshane came on to replace Evans who suffered from cramp towards the end of the game.
The game was pretty much all but wrapped up after Jones was replaced by O’Donovan who was introduced to keep the ball but he hardly got a touch as we defended well towards the end of the game.
A massive three points that do not move us anywhere in the league but allows us to be joint 14th after Bolton threw it away to Blackburn in the 4pm kick off. This was the ‘true Sunderland’ that we all know can exist but we need to see if this performance was not just a one off but the beginning of a run that can see if move onwards and upwards. The result will show players linked to us that we can play attacking football and we are worthy of being in this league for the duration. 20 points so it is a much better season already than last attempt!
MOM – Richardson for his goals and passing, but also for his work rate to track back on more than five occasions to win the ball back. A simply excellent performance.