With many on Wearside bemused by the unseasonable swelter that engulfed the Stadium of Light on this October afternoon, it was hard not to suggest that autumnal, overcast weather would have provided a more fitting backdrop to Sunderland's 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion. Many fans will have no doubt met the final whistle with mixed emotions over their opinions on current manager Steve Bruce.
Had the game ended on five minutes, one would hardly have been surprised if an earthquake struck SR5 and swallowed Bruce whole. Somehow, before many had even found their seats and donned their sunglasses, the home side were two down.
The first, almost predictably, came from a set-piece. Shane Long was felled by Wes Brown, gifting the Baggies a free-kick in the middle of the Sunderland half. Despite the straightforward nature of the ball in from Chris Brunt, no one in red and white troubled themselves to clear the imminent danger, and James Morrison, hardly the most physically imposing of those on the field, took full advantage. Cue groans all round, and a rueful glance skyward from Bruce in the dugout.
Merely seventy seconds later, those groans had turned to boos, and Bruce no doubt longed for that aforementioned earthquake. In truth, West Brom's second was fortuitous, but that made it no easier to stomach for the red and white faithful. Craig Gardner, through his tackle on Peter Odemwingie, inadvertently produced a defence-splitting pass; the problem was, the defence it split was his own. Shane Long latched onto it and was pursued by Michael Turner, with the latter looking more like he was wading through three feet of snow as opposed to a few centimetres of freshly cut turf. Unbothered by any opposition defenders then, Long promptly marched in the Sunderland box, before slotting the ball past a helpless Simon Mignolet.
With fans and players alike shellshocked, Sunderland needed a reaction. It didn't appear immediately forthcoming. For the next fifteen minutes or so, the home side were terrible.
In the middle, captain Lee Cattermole bundled about with all the positional sense of a bull marauding around a china shop. His partner, Gardner, was little better. Indeed, Sunderland's midfield was so porous that it made the Titanic look positively watertight in comparison.
At the back, Turner looked slow (perhaps unfit?) and ponderous, whilst it had seemingly taken only two months to turn John O'Shea from a Premier League winner into a hoof-happy Sunderland full-back.
Fortunately for the Black Cats, their opponents were not of the highest calibre. On the 23 minute mark, Bruce's men found their deficit halved, following the first real piece of football his side had played. Stephane Sessegnon, again impressive but with little end product, this time found Seb Larsson, who had the awareness to backhell the ball into the path of the onrushing Nicklas Bendtner. The Arsenal loanee, though helped by a deflection, made no mistake in firing the ball past Baggies' goalkeeper Ben Foster.
Two minutes later, almost as quickly as the visitors had doubled their lead, the hosts were level. This time Bendtner turned provider, sending over a sumptuous ball from the left-wing. It was met by the head of Ahmed Elmohamady who, having been anonymous until this point, picked the perfect time to open his goalscoring account for the club.
The home side were now in the ascendancy (and had earlier been unfortunate when Larsson's goal was ruled out for offside), but were unable to find their way past Foster again.
It was no surprise, however, when Cattermole found himself booked on 35 minutes. In fairness to the 23 year-old midfielder, the decision seemed harsh; particularly when Albion players were attempting some tackles as if masquerading as offensive linebackers, with no punishment following their clear transgressions. That aside though, Cattermole had once again managed to lessen his own influence on the game, and would later be substituted for this very reason.
Sunderland went into the break with the momentum, and carried the second half on in the same vein, but simply could not find a winner. A few went close, and the blossoming relationship between Sessegnon and Bendtner certainly showed positive signs for the future, but 2-2 was how it would end.
Before the game, a draw at home to West Brom would have looked ever more damning for the man in the Sunderland dugout. Following the debacle of the opening five minutes, the point garnered today has at least shown Bruce has not lost the dressing room, and that his players are very much still playing for him.
In spite of this though, it still remains a poor result for a side looking to push on from its tenth-placed finish last season. Aside from the opening twenty minutes, the Black Cats played fairly well (they noticeably tightened up in the second half, allowing the visitors barely a sniff), but those twenty minutes were decisive in providing them with an uphill task.
Bruce will hold onto his post for a little while longer, but he must be more aware than most that the storm clouds gathering overhead are drifting ever nearer to the Stadium of Light.
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (7), Richardson (7), O'Shea (7), Turner (6), Brown (7), Larsson (5), Elmohamady (6), Gardner (3), Cattermole (4), Sessegnon (6), Bendtner (8)
Subs Used: Colback (6), Dong-Won (6), Meyler (5)
Man Of The Match: Nicklas Bendtner - The Danish striker was a cut above any other SAFC player on show today, showing good link-up play, aerial prowess, and despite the massive deflection, certainly deserved his goal. Here's to a few more.
It's not likely we should ever be happy with a 2-2 sdraw, at home, against a team lower than us in the league, however, the performance for the most part was actually alright. Unfortunately though it's the result that will go down in the history books, and results wise this isn;t a great one. It does look as though it will be enough to keep Bruce in a job for another game though. I only hope he's not overly happy with this and has more ideas when we head to Arsenal in two weeks time.
Keep The Faith.