Sunderland started well – again
It is starting to become a pattern in games that we really know what our game plan is and that we go at it 100%, right from the off. This was another one of those matches, and it was great to see, especially away from home, and at a top six contender’s place at that.
Though we didn’t really create many clear-cut chances in the first 30 minutes, our pressing was once again very well organised, and we nipped and pinched at the heels of United really well – to the point that the Blades coach acknowledged we had the better first half in post-match discussions.
We did have a few sniffs too… Simms almost put Rossco in inside seven mins, but he slightly overhit the pass. Gooch whipped in one ball marginally too close to the keeper, with Stewart hurtling in for that one too. Just inside 20 minutes, Simms and Rossco combined again with a great counterattack triggered by an O’Nien clearance, only for Stewart to put it wide.
If we can continue to play as well as we did in that first 25 minutes, and can do that for full games rather than for halves or for 30 minute spells like we have seen of late, we will succeed in consolidating in this league this season.
If last season’s beaten playoff semi-finalists can’t handle us, not many will. We just need to be able to do that for longer spells and more consistently. I feel with time, that will come.
Poor decisions cost us. And where was our defending for that corner?
Though we had the upper hand in the first 25 mins, a poor decision by young Dan Neil changed the evening and gave us a huge uphill struggle for over an hour of the evening’s play.
He is still a young lad playing in a decent division, and we know he will learn from that error, so while he deserved criticism for that mistake, some of the vitriol online post his misjudged decision was way beyond the necessary for me.
Many would say he should have let his even younger opponent through to shoot rather than risking a red, as McAtee was on his debut, and may well have not converted. Hindsight is easy, and so is armchair football, so my view is that let’s hope Dan picks himself up from that poor split-second decision and that he shows how he can make a difference in more positive ways in games to come.
All the above said, the opening goal didn’t come directly from Neil’s error, and the defending for it was almost as bad as the midfielder's decision to draw a red from the ref’s back pocket.
Patterson was in no man’s land. Batth was right in the middle of the box but marking nobody. Rossco was directly in front of the scorer but (possibly due to a crafty push in the back the ref didn't see) didn't even get off the deck to try to head clear.
I am not sure whether we were zonal marking or something else, but it was poor and, had we defended better, we may have got more from the game even with the hour of play with a man less.
Matete made his mark when he came on
After going 2-0 down to a well worked United goal only two minutes into the second period, Alex Neil decided to roll the dice by adding in Matete, Hume and Wright for Pritchard, Embleton and Simms. And out of the three, my oh my, did Matete unleash what he wanted the head coach to see!
Only two minutes after coming on, a great bit of terrier-like pressure from the fresh legs of Matete nicked the ball from United, and a deft through ball from Stewart set up Gooch, who reminded us how good a finisher he can be on a good day. It does beg the question, why did Alex Neil not make this change at half time?
It is equally questionable though, whether Neil did what he did to get one back, or to try to shore things up and prevent a rout, as the slick passing that led to the second home goal did leave many fans worried the floodgates may be about to be breached.
With Evans missing from the squad and the middle of the park being quite poor for significant stretches of the game (especially post-Dan Neil going for an early shower), it does raise as many questions as answers on what the coach intended to get from the subs, and why he timed them as he did. Whatever his intent, the subs changed the game, and I think Matete has stated a decent case for more match minutes, particularly in light of Corry Evans seemingly out for a spell.
Well done Jay Matete. For me that was a really good 40-minute or so display. You helped us avoid a collapse like those we have had in seasons past when losing a player (remember Peterborough away, anyone?). To not have that as something we are likely to do this season is another major positive.
Patterson had his iffy moments, but he kept it respectable in the end
I was a little worried about young Patto at times in this game, and as mentioned above I think he could have done better for the first goal. There were times though, especially in the second half, where he made some world-class saves that showed us exactly why the gaffer has him as our number one in this league.
Even in the first half, he made a couple of saves to keep us in the game, one before the opening goal, and another tip over the bar about six minutes later when a cross/shot almost caught him out by sneaking under the bar.
In the second stanza though, he was amazing at times. He was repeatedly looking to distribute from the back, and drew a yellow card for his opponents for trying to prevent that. His shot stopping was immense as well, especially that one down low at his near post and the one very soon after, saving from a very well taken header. Both were past the 90-minute point, and were saves that no one other than maybe Jon McLaughlin would have made in recent seasons, in my view.
He has some learning to do, but he more than made up for his error and was one of the main players helping us to launch an unlikely assault for a draw and a point with ten men, right to the death. Top job, and a great prospect.
Last match, we left the game feeling robbed of two points, and rightly so.
This game we did actually lose, but to a good side in this league. We lost with such endeavour and pride though, it felt better than the point we gained at the weekend in many ways for me.
We took the losers of the Championship play-off semi-finals last season and had them praying for the final whistle after taking them on for 65 minutes or so with a one-player disadvantage.
We have clearly developed some grit under Alex Neil, and with some additions in the next couple of weeks, we can take on anyone in this league. And with 11 men for most of this one, we would likely have won it.
Great team spirit, lads. Onto the next one.