Martin O'Neill tasted defeat for the first time as Sunderland manager today, but it wasn't quite as bitter as it has been for large parts of the season so far.
Today we played very well, unfortunately we played Tottenham Hotspur, who are quite simple a better team than us. It was great to see us continually go for it, work hard and battle right up until the last minute.
Good stuff result aside, so here's our recap of events at White Hart Lane today...
Not much surprise in that Martin O'Neill stuck with the same starting line-up that eventually broke down a stubborn Blackburn Rovers side last week. Only this time Lee Cattermole and Nicklas Bendtner were able to make the bench following injury and indiscretion.
After a relatively boring opening ten minutes in which neither team offered particularly much going forward, it was a half volley from Benoit Assout-Ekotto which was deflected wide by Rafael Van Der Vaart which first brought the fans to their feet. Moments later we attempted to respond but Stephane Sessegnon's snap shot went well over the bar from all of twenty-five yards.
This seemed to kick the home side into life as Luka Modric played in Emmanuel Adebayor for Titus Bramble to clear, then Sandro flashed a shot wide from inside the area after decent work from Van Der Vaart. In fairness, the Dutchman should never have had the time to play the ball as Wes Brown appeared to invite him to play it.
As far as the opening twenty minutes went, that was the height of the excitement. I wish I could have talked more about our attacking intentions, but there wasn't really any. Not that we were sat back, just more pegged back as Spurs enjoyed the better of the possession and the chances, whilst we stuck manfully to a rigid 4-4-1-1 formation, and not taking any unnecessary risks.
Another period of staleness set-in before Kieran Richardson was the first to work Brad Friedel in the Spurs goal, nipping inside from the left wing and firing one low from 25 yards, but it ended up a relatively routine stop.
Major incident and worry came shortly after that when following an innocuous looking challenge with Kyle Walker, Connor Wickham, just returning from injury himself was down on the ground clutching his ankle, but managed to hobble back on.
Whilst off however, we had our best chance. Neat work from Sessegnon teed up Larsson wide in the area and all the fizzing low cross needed was a touch. Off anyone. Kieran Richardson at the back post, nor a defender could help us out. Easily our best moment and move though, and one of the more clear cut chances in the game itself.
Another chance presented itself as we approached the 40th minute, when Gallas clattered into Wickham. Around thirty yards out, in what's now no longer known as "Beckham Territory" but "Larsson Territory" the Swede fired one towards the top corner of Friedel's goal, but he managed to get a flying fist on it and deny a certain goal.
As everyone was preparing for half time, there was a huge let off for us as Scott "Worlds Greatest Player" Parker volleyed in a cross, completely misread by Kieren Westwood who'd gone flying to punch it away, and Roman Pavlychencko stole in to meet it, and thankfully guide it wide of the mark.
With defences on top and neither team really stealing a march on each other, heading back to the dressing room at 0-0 seemed just about right. The home side wasted a few opportunities whilst we were at our best on the counter.
A half-time change for us as Nicklas Bendtner replaced Connor Wickham. Good job really as there was no point in taking a risk with Wickham following that earlier knock.
David Vaughan was the first to get a strike in as the second half started. After a charging run from midfield carried him to the edge of the area, he let fly towards the top corner with his unfavoured right-peg, but it was well held by Friedel.
It was certainly an uptempo start to the second half for us, picking up a few free-kicks in dangerous areas, and pinning Spurs in their own half for the entirety of the first five minutes. Already things seemed more open than first 45 minutes.
The home side followed with their own spell of dominance, without really mustering anything that could get past Bramble and Brown at the back. The nearest they could get was Rafael Van Der Vaart's deflected effort form distance which had Westwood scrambling across goal, the corner coming to nothing.
On the hour a great chance presented itself when Richardson fed Colback in the area, but man who's yet to score for the club looks like he'll have to wait a little longer. The miscue was made to look even worse seconds later when the home side took the lead.
Van Der Vaart nicking the ball in midfield, and playing in first half substitute Roman Pavlychenko, who got free and fired low into the bottom corner beyond, and across, the diving Westwood. Such a cruel blow having played so well up to that point.
It was important that from then on we didn't let our heads drop as we were still very much in the game. There was an element of luck to that however as Luka Modric put in his contender for miss of the season. Adebayor racing clear, well saved by Westwood but it fell straight to the Croatian, who thankfully put the ball over when it was easier to score.
Twenty minutes to go and the first major re-shuffle came for us as last week's star of the show, James McClean entered proceedings at the expense of Phil Bardsley. Kieran Richardson reverting to left-back, as we went in search of an equaliser. We tried, God knows we tried, but it seemed we were taking it in turn to run into a white brick wall. Colback and Sessegnon notable in not being able to out-fox King or Gallas.
With that in mind, shots from distance seemed to be the order of the day. Bendtner and McClean tried their luck form varying distances, with equally varied results as Bendtner forced a comfortable save from Friedel and McClean sending one with his wrong foot closer to the corner flag. Enter substitute Craig Gardner to add further weight to this idea, Jack Colback, who had a fine game, the man to make way.
The home side were in search of a killer goal to see us off, however we managed to stick to our guns and keep them out, and press with every opportunity. A clear sign of a new philosophy under O'Neill as if this game was a month ago we'd have seen heads drop and eleven men just playing out time.
With two minutes to go, the ball fell to Nicklas Bendtner, but off balance he couldn't get the ball anywhere near the target, much to the delight of the home fans, and the despair of the away ones.
Four minutes of added time were not enough to create a decent shot on goal, Gardner, O'Shea, Larsson, Vaughan all beavered away, but it wasn't to be.
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Westwood (7); O'Shea (7), Brown (8), Bramble (7), Bardsley (6); Larsson (7), Colback (7), Vaughan (8), Richardson (7); Sessegnon (6), Wickham (6)
Subs Used: Bendtner (6), McClean (6), Gardner (6)
Man Of The Match: David Vaughan - The Welshman had a great game in the middle of the park, getting forward with purpose, defending doggedly and rarely wasting a pass. Seemed to just be everywhere, and one of the major reasons why we were still in the game for the most part. Honourable mentions for the entire defensive unit who stood firm too.
Scoreline aside, it was a good day out for us. Plenty of positives to take from the game. It was just one of them where Spurs were simply a better team than us, and it showed, but you can sit at home tonight and feel proud of the way the lads played and acquitted themselves, never giving up right up to the final whistle.
O'Neill tastes defeat for the first time, but the feel-good factor is still very much here. Headed across London to QPR on Wednesday, if the performance is as good, I think we'll come away with all three points.
Keep The Faith.