Quick Kicks: Thoughts And Reaction From Sunderland 2-2 Fulham

Ian MacNicol

Sunderland ended a run of dismal defeats with a confusing 2-2 draw with Fulham on Saturday. Now we've had time to digest it, here's what we made of it. Plus a little bit from Martin O'Neill too.

What The Gaffer Said

Martin O'Neill spoke with the club's official website after the game and had this to say on the performance;

Simon's save was a big moment for us. We could have gone 3-1 behind but within 25 seconds we made it two apiece.

Stephane Sessegnon's goal was special following the magnificent save from Mignolet - it was a pivotal moment in the game.

We conceded a penalty early in the game - at that point I thought the referee was going to book their player for simulation. But that said we still got caught in the midst of it all and we then found ourselves two goals behind.

It was a great fightback to get to 2-2.

It was important to get a goal before half time and we managed to do that. We piled pressure on them and I think we deserved to take a point.

I thought it was a clear penalty at the end of the game, Senderos handled the ball. We suffered last week to similar incidents - one given against us and one not given for us.

It was a big moment in the game today and there needs to be consistency.

O'Neill is certainly right to point out that Mignolet's save changed the game for us, and that we deserved a point. We did do. While I'm not entirely convinced we deserved all three, a point is ok to arrest the flow of defeats.

Interesting to see him once again to criticise the refereeing about as close to the bone as you can get without actually getting pulled up for a fine. Sometimes it needs commenting on, and Mark Halsey was terrible on Saturday.

Ref!? (Part Two)

Lat week we moaned about the refereeing in this feature and despite it not wanting to become a staple of the piece, Mark Halsey really ought to have a little look at himself.

For the penalty Fulham won, there was contact it seems between Craig Gardner and Ashkan Dejagah. Minimal contact however which the Iranian winger really made the most of. So much so that Mark Halsey seemed like he wasn't going to give anything at all until he either changed his mind or heard otherwise from a misinformed Assistant Referee.

Even for the penalty which we won, the contact between Philippe Senderos and Danny Graham was next to nothing, and seemed to be little more than the referee evening things up. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he did, but for me neither would have been given as fouls outside the box and shouldn't be in either, it's a contact game.

Bench Getting Shorter By The Week

Once gain we had only six substitutes. Four of them goalkeepers and defenders meaning in situations like what we faced on Saturday. It would have been five had Matt Kilgallon not been taken ill prior to kick off.

It's an absolutely shocking state of affairs for us to be in. We have allowed Connor Wickham to go out on loan to get game time but ironically he'd be getting it here. We need him recalled as soon as possible in my book.

If we're going to leave ourselves short then put a youngster on there to get them experience. I can see O'Neill's viewpoint that he doesn't want to make it so that any youngsters feel that they've "made it" but that could quite easily be explained to the player that they're getting experience, and would surely be welcoming of it.

More attacking options are needed. Bringing James McClean on meant a radical change in philosophy. You can't try to implement one system if you have to change it constantly.

Character Building

Coming back from a two-goal deficit is something we seem to have tried a lot this season and rarely come up with the goods to actually complete the job.

While we didn't get all three points, the effort of the players cannot be faulted. At 2-0 down I like many other fans had the familiar "here we go again" feeling about how things were playing out. Thankfully the heads of those on the pitch didn't dropped and as things continued we were well worth at least the point we got.

Plenty of effort, not too much execution. Martin O'Neill knows just like you and me that we need more quality in the squad and hopefully that will come over the summer.

Sessegnon On Song

I really had my doubts about Stephane Sessegnon being deployed out wide, and I had severe doubts about him being on the right hand side of midfield.

However he seems to be proving me wrong and has been far and away our star performer in the two games in which we've implemented this new system. He's still very much a liability and was berated by Craig Gardner at times for not tracking back but he was one of the few who seemed to be a constant threat against Fulham. They simply couldn't handle him.

With Martin O'Neill's notoriously poor record during the month of March, we need Sess firing on all cylinders more than ever.

N'Diaye's Influence Growing

While he still looks far from the finished article, Alfred N'Diaye is quietly growing into a pivotal player in our midfield. Nearly everyone expected him to be a tall, imposing and holding midfield presence to provide a platform for the likes of Sessegnon and Johnson but perhaps the most delightful part of his play has been going forward.

When he opens stride there's simply no stopping him. He can pick a pass, he can put in a better cross than half our team and generally causes all kinds of problems. If he can just start hitting the target with a few of his efforts on goal we'll be set.

Beat The First Man!

One thing which we did perhaps the most poorly all afternoon was cross the ball. It seemed that so rarely did the ball get anywhere near our front two they simply gave up on actually making a move to get into the box, as that was woefully undermanned at times.

Just taking a look through some of the Opta stats for crossing make an awful read post-match. Adam Johnson completed 4 of 16 crosses, Craig Gardner completed 3 of 10, James McClean 1 of 7 and Seb Larsson 0 of 6.

It's something that really, really needs to be improved and quickly.

Quality Fullbacks In The Summer Please

Something that was highlighted on Saturday was our need for some quality fullbacks. While I'm a fan of Craig Gardner's ability to fill in, and prefer him over Phil Bardsley in the right-back position, you'd have to imagine someone new for the position will be one of the top items on Martin O'Neill's shopping list this summer.

Twice in as man weeks Gardner has been guilty of making mistakes someone more accustomed to the position wouldn't make, and similarly Jack Colback, while perfectly able, is almost anonymous on the other side.

Mig The Magnificent

While you'd find fault with Simon Mignolet perhaps for the second Fulham goal where the Belgian parried it right into the path of an on-rushing Sascha Reither, he more than made up for it with an absolutely crucial save from Dimitar Berbatov prior to us equalising.

At 3-1 there would have been no coming back whatsoever, but that changed things for us. I'd wager 99 times out of 100 that was a goal, and there's hardly any other 'keepers in the league who could have made that save.

Superb stuff, and the sooner he signs a new contract the better.

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