There’s only one place to start Talking Points, and that’s the red card for Luke O’Nien on 18 minutes.
It's an extremely difficult one to analyse and you can find yourself going round in an infinite loop when attempting to. Under the laws of the game, Luke’s red card will have been under the auspices of “Serious Foul Play”. This is defined as:
A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality... Any player that lunges at an opponent from the front, side or behind using one or both legs, with excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.
Now I’ve watched the replay a few dozen times - at half-speed, normal speed, frame-by-frame - and my opinion is the same as it was at the time; it’s mistimed, but it's not a lunge and does not endanger the opponent any more than any other robust challenge would. At contact, both feet are on the floor, studs down and the opponent goes over his knee.
The pace at which both players are moving at impact will make the incident look worse, which in real time could have given the referee cause to cite “excessive force”, as will the faux outrage from the Swansea players.
Without the benefit of being able to watch it back 25 times I can see why the referee made the decision to give the red, but the actual incident is extremely subjective. For me, O’Nien didn't need to make that sort of challenge and give the referee the decision to make.
What isn’t subjective however is that it would be THE talking point of Saturday and would give the Lads an uphill battle for over 70 minutes.
Tale of two penalties
I refuse to talk about the entire refereeing performance, as that would be an article in itself!
In short, it was generally just awful.
What will split opinion will be the two penalties many will think we should have had yesterday however I have some sympathy towards the officials for the grief in not awarding us a decision.
Just as I did with the O’Nien sending off, I took the time to replay the incident a couple of dozen times at various different speeds and fully braced for the backlash, I really struggle to see where the contact is that sends Amad to the floor.
I think the emotion of those 30 seconds or so from the penalty shout to the appearance of the red card has convinced people that it was a penalty in order to excuse the red card and pile more of the blame onto the officials (If the referee had done his job and given the penalty, Luke wouldn’t have had to make the challenge that got him sent off!).
The Dan Neil penalty shout was perhaps a more desperate plea given the state of the match at that point but again, trying to take away my Sunderland bias, I struggle to see where enough of an offence to warrant awarding a penalty.
When trying to form opinions on these incidents I try and think objectively about two things.
Firstly: how would I react if those decisions were against us; and secondly: if VAR existed in the Championship, would the on-field decision be overturned?
If either of the penalty shouts were given against us I’m sure the base majority of us would be outraged. I don’t believe either would be objectively enough of a ‘clear and obvious error’ that the referee’s decision would be overturned.
There will be thousands of views on this, which is why it's such a big talking point, but for me neither were enough of a penalty claim for me to be outraged by.
A never-say-die attitude is a real positive
The final whistle went yesterday and aside from the disappointment at the result, I’m really quite proud of the lads for the reaction, the performance and desire to get something out of the game when all odds were stacked against us.
I feel like I’ve learned more about the character of our team in today’s defeat than in the Millwall and Wigan victories. Whilst it will have been tough to take yesterday, waking up this morning and having reflected, we should look back on yesterday’s game as a disappointing result, but be very happy with the response to going down to 10 men and 1-0 down.
Most of the time, the mission of a team going down to 10 at 0-0 is one of containment; restrict the opposition, frustrate them, limit their opportunities and try to come away with a well-earned point. What also tends to happen is that team goes 1-0 down, then falls to pieces.
However, we regrouped, fought hard and got ourselves back into the game with an equaliser. If it wasn’t for some individual errors and just poor luck, we could have ended up coming away with something.
Such is the division this season that it would only take a run of three positive results to get right back into the playoffs, and with the fight I saw yesterday I’d back us to get right back up there.
Neil x Evans = Neil x (Ba + Michut)
After some good performances from Dan Neil of late in a midfield three with Ba and Michut, one point of discussion has been how Evans affects Neil’s performance when they have to play together as a two.
Neil was by far and away Sunderland’s best player yesterday against a very good passing team, with Joe Allen being the extra man in Swansea’s midfield. If ever there was a display to show that he can indeed thrive playing with anyone, in any combination, in any formation, then this was it.
At both ends of the pitch Neil made key contributions. Going forward, he was the furthest player forward to get onto the end of Batth’s knockdown for the goal, and he drove into to box to force the defence into a challenge for the second penalty shout. Off the ball he did an excellent job trying to occupy Allen and pressed intelligently whenever he needed to despite Swansea’s attempts to move the ball around him.
Yes, the dynamic is slightly different when he is paired with Evans, but as yesterday proved Neil’s performance levels are very much dictated by Dan himself - not by the players with him in the midfield.
“Welcome back” Danny Batth!
It was an absolute rollercoaster of a return to action for Danny Batth. Forced back into the fold following O’Nien’s red card, he was both hero and villain throughout his time back on the pitch.
After being brought on after just 20 minutes, Batth was tasked with not only completing the remaining 70+, but doing so with a man down.
His return first peaked with a fantastic block from 8 yards out to stop what looked to be an inevitable Swansea goal near the end of the first half.
Gooch has been given a lot of responsibility for Swansea’s first goal, however a very large finger should be pointed at Batth, who completely stood still on the edge of the box as the ball went over Gooch’s head. It was his man Joel Piroe who finished from 6 yards unopposed to give Swansea the lead.
The second peak came 15 minutes later when Jack Clarke had Latibeaudiere twisted in knots and crossed the ball in. Somehow Batth had teleported to the back post and aimed a lovely cushioned header back across the goal and into the path of Dan Neil for 1-1.
Swansea’s second was very unfortunate as Batth tried to clear up another mess created by Gooch’s lack of marking. His clearance ricocheted off of Cullen and into the back of the Sunderland goal to put the Swans back ahead.
Just to compound the misery, Swansea’s third appeared to deflect off Batth’s studs to end up in the top corner - and the game as a contest over.
There is no doubt that he has been absolutely superb for us this season, and we’ll rely on him even more following yesterday’s red card, but we’ll hope for some better luck for him over the coming games.
Nonetheless, welcome back Danny!