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Match Report: Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn Rovers - Stunning Strikes Save The Day

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New manager, and for ten to fifteen minutes, a new team.
New manager, and for ten to fifteen minutes, a new team.

You know when you write your match report during the game, and spend most of your time on it moaning that the team just shows no cutting edge, no real danger and get increasingly annoyed that they can't break down Blackburn's ten man defence? And then something happens, which means you have to change it, then something else happens, which means you pretty much have to start all over again.

Yeah, well... That. Enjoy our match report from what was a very, very mixed performance...

It was a historic day on Wearside, as Martin O'Neill took charge of his first game as manager, and he got the reception that you would expect from almost 40,000 fans.

It's fair to say that the team news threw up a few surprises, as not only did Connor Wickham start (was Bruce pretending he was injured?), but so did Titus Bramble, suggesting that it was the former manager who decided that he shouldn't be in the team, rather than those higher up at the club. Anyway, fresh start - clean slate and all that jazz. David Vaughan also made it back in, with Cattermole suspended.

Unfortunately, the first half was very poor indeed. Titus Bramble had an ongoing battle with Yakubu, and could have given a penalty away in the early stages. Thankfully, the ref gave him the benefit of the doubt, and replays suggest he may have just touched the ball when slide-tackling the Blackburn front man in the box.

However, we weren't so lucky on 17 minutes. Larsson's poor touch on the wing left the ball just out of reach, and in stretching to win it back, he fouled the Yak. When Pedersen swung the free kick in, everyone stood and watched as Samba - who was an absolute mountain all game for Blackburn - smashed a shot on goal, Westwood could only parry it, and some fella from A Clockwork Orange nodded it in. It's unclear why a cast member from a 1971 film was doing on the pitch at the Stadium of Light, but stranger things have happened...

Elsewhere in the first half, Richardson tested Robinson on a number of occasions, and generally looked like a threat, the best chance coming from a defensive mistake and leaving Ricco standing in the Blackburn area on his own with the ball at his feet. Unfortunately, Paul Robinson's quick thinking meant that he managed to smother the shot, and the danger was gone.

Rovers would have felt aggrieved at not going in two goals to the good at half time, as Scott Dann's close range header was chalked off. With another ball going into the box, Westwood came out and clattered into the back of Samba, with the ball carrying on past him, before Dann nodded it in. Having a closer look at the replay, Samba made no attempt to block, impede or foul the Black Cats' keeper, and we were lucky that the ref got that one wrong.

So, half time, and it was a case of same old, same old. Unfortunately for them, it seems that we have some bellends in the crowd that thought it wise too boo the team at half time. In the new manager's first game. Hope you're proud of yourselves if that applies to you.

The second half, well, 40 minutes of the second half were thoroughly frustrating. Blackburn fans must be irate at their team, or manager, as they sat 10 men behind the ball at all times, with Yakubu wandering around on the halfway line, and it was wave after wave of Sunderland attacks which never really looked like coming to anything. Richardson drew another excellent save from Robinson, but that was about it, despite the constant pressure. In the words of Michael Graham, our performance was all fart and no shite.

That is, however, until Mr O'Neill changed things on the field. James McClean was given his first taste of Sunderland football as he replaced Jack Colback, while Ji Dong-Won came on for Connor Wickham, who worked hard, but certainly didn't enjoy the best of times up against Mr Samba.

McClean's impact was immediate and extraordinary. He beat a man and put a fine cross in with his first touch, and everything that he did brought a real buzz to the fans. I hope I'm not jumping the gun too much when saying that, on evidence of the 15/20 minutes that he played today, he looks a real prospect.

Time was still ticking down though, until we reached the 85th minute. A corner was cleared by Blackburn's left back, only for it to fall to David Vaughan 30 yards from goal. It's unlikely that Vaughan's ever hit a ball so well in his life, and his shot rocketed past Paul Robinson, who didn't even have time to attempt a dive. 1-1, and the crowd knew that Rovers were there for the taking.

It's a nice feeling to know that, if your team gets a free kick around the edge of the box, you have a player capable of making it count. That's the feeling that we can all share now, and there was a real sense of expectation as Sunderland were awarded a free-kick on 92 minutes. 20 yards from goal, on the corner of the box, our beatiful Swede, Seb Larsson, was the only man who was going to be anywhere near this one.

You know the rest. His free kick bent over the wall and hit the bottom of the post on its way in, leaving Robinson with no chance, and the roof of the Stadium of Light firmly lifted off. It's unlikely that it's even landed now.

The miraculous come back was complete, and Martin O'Neill can boast a 100% win record as Sunderland boss.

It feels good to say that after what was, to be honest, a dissapointing first 80 minutes, with special mention to the first half, which was woeful. It's also probably fair to say that, if this game had taken place a few weeks ago, you wouldn't have fancied us for the win.

Our season starts now, and it's time to build on these three points looking forward to a busy festive season.

Team (Ratings in brackets)

Starting XI: Westwood (7); Bardsley (6), Brown (7), Bramble (6), O'Shea (6); Larsson (7), Richardson (8), Vaughan (7), Colback (7), Sessegnon (8), Wickham (5)

Subs Used: McClean (8), Dong-Won (6)

Man Of The Match: James McClean - Of course he only came on for a few minutes, but his impact was really rather special. With someone unafraid to charge down the wing, put in decent crosses and generally be a nuisance from the moment he stepped out on to the Stadium Of Light pitch, we're all very much looking forward to seeing more of him.

And so despite coming mighty close to blowing it, Martin O'Neill's record of never losing his first game in charge remains in tact.

At half-time I'm sure I wasn't alone in pondering that there was the same old problems, and that Martin O'Neill must have been thinking "what the hell have I got to do here!" but by either luck or genius, O'Neill managed to change the game in a way Bruce never would have. Let's face it, staring down at 1-0 Bruce would have brought on Elmo, and maybe given Noble 30 seconds of action, but it seems we have someone who can see things differently.

Still some problems to sort out, and it was 'only' Blackburn and so forth, but they'll be something to worry about in the morning. For now, toast a very sweet victory.

Ha'way The Lads.