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Match Report: West Ham 1-1 Sunderland - Groundhog Day

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: Mohamed Diame of West Ham United goes past James McClean of Sunderland during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Sunderland at Boleyn Ground on September 22, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Martin O'Neill is still waiting for his side's first league win of the season. In an all-too-familiar story, Sunderland grabbed the lead, but failed to kill off the game and were punished for a lack of adventure.

The Black Cats travelled to the capital without the services of £10m England winger Adam Johnson, who was again deemed to have failed to sufficiently recover from the thigh injury suffered during the international break.

Fellow summer-arrival Carlos Cuellar also missed out after limping out of the Liverpool game with a hamstring complaint, which meant a return to the starting line-up for Titus Bramble - only his second Premier League appearance since Boxing Day.

West Ham's own £10m winger was also missing, with Matt Jarvis starting on the bench.

The game started in the way we have generally come to expect from Sunderland this season. Nine minutes of West Ham seeing more of the ball yet failing to really make an impression. Then Steven Fletcher did what Steven Fletcher does and bagged himself a goal out of absolutely nowhere.

A botched clearance from the Hammers' defence was seized upon down the right flank by Seb Larsson. The Swede drove towards the edge of the box rather than the byline, and clipped the ball to the the back post from where Fletcher produced a two-touch finish dripping in quality.

As could be expected West Ham responded, though it was with pressure rather than clear-cut chances. Ricardo Vaz Te headed wide at the back post from a sumptuous Matthew Taylor left wing centre, before Kevin Nolan hit a tame free kick into the wall.

But the pressure kept on building, and the chances started to come. Carlton Cole flashed a header over, but Sunderland's chief-tormentor was predictably Kevin Nolan. The former Newcastle man must have left the field at half time wondering how on earth he hadn't scored. He hooked a close range effort wide after a Cole knock-down, and then hit a wonderful acrobatic volley that looked destined for the corner of the net. He jumped up to celebrate, the chicken-dance was primed, but he hadn't reckoned with the reflexes of Simon Mignolet. The Sunderland stopper flung himself to his left to produce a stunning one-handed save to ensure his team headed to the dressing room on top.

If there was a sense of familiarity about the first half, then the second half was like one of those lads you hung around with at school without you really liking them or ever knowing why you even bothered with them.

Once again, the side retreated deep into their own half, and this time against a team who's game plan was to bombard a packed penalty area with high balls. The pressure had to tell. The only surprise was how long it took.

Sunderland had half-chances on the counter of course, but the second period resembled an attack versus defence training exercise. To their credit, O'Neill's men defended well. Bramble and O'Shea were pillars of strength and Cattermole in front was at his very best. A superb mixture of tenacity, strength, and discipline.

Yet the West Ham chances kept coming. Cole was again off target with his head, this time from a Mark Noble free kick, and James Collins bounced an effort off the bar from a corner by the player. Joey O'Brian tried his luck from range but failed to beat Mignolet, and only a brilliant defensive header at the back post from the impressive Danny Rose denied substitute Yossi Benayoun a simple close-range goal.

When Sunderland could break, there was threat but little quality. Adam Johnson can't come back quick enough. Their best moment after the break came with a sublime piece of wing-play from James McClean. The Irishman attacked his man and fired an inviting ball right across the the face of the West Ham goal, but it evaded David Vaughan at the far post.

When the goal did come, there wasn't a single Sunderland fan watching who was surprised by the scorer. Kevin Nolan swivelled in the box once more but this time Mignolet couldn't keep it out and the home side's skipper chicken-danced his way into the headlines with a deserved 93rd minute equalizer.

Soul-crushingly predictable.

Team (Ratings In Brackets)

Starting XI: Mignolet (8); Gardner (7), O'Shea (8), Bramble (8), Rose (7); Larsson (6), Cattermole (8), Colback (7), McClean (6); Sessegnon (6); Fletcher (7)

Subs Used: Vaughan (6), Campbell (6), Meyler (6)

Man Of The Match: Lee Cattermole - In truth you could have taken your pick between Cattermole, O'Shea, and Bramble, but the skipper edged it for me. That was the Cattermole we want to see. The one who is a huge asset. Influenced the game and marshaled his troops. Superb captain's performance.

So there we have it. More of the same. Take the lead, sit back, break with threat but without quality, and ultimately pay the price for not killing the game off. In a word - frustrating. Though three points from three tough away games I suppose.

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