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This match was a perfect tale of two teams whose fortunes were going in completely different trajectories.
A resurgent Wolverhampton Wanderers under Nuno Espirito Santo were accelerating at an unstoppable rate towards the league title, while Chris Coleman’s Sunderland were clinging to their status as a Championship club by the tips of their fingernails, less than a year after being relegated from the Premier League!
After his Euro 2016 success with Wales, Coleman’s stock couldn’t have been higher. In many ways, it was quite a surprise that he took on the job of trying to steer a sorry Sunderland side away from the proverbial trapdoor.
Coleman was a confident man. His charm and rhetoric endeared him to the Sunderland fanbase, who were desperately seeking someone to save their club from sliding down the leagues. From the very first day, Coleman massaged the ego of the supporters.
In his press conference, Coleman labelled the club as “a seriously big football club,” adding that “someone will get it right here,” which was almost certainly a reference to himself.
By the time this game came around, it was still early days into his tenure. A rare win against Burton Albion away from home was sandwiched between two defeats: one against Aston Villa and then a disappointing defeat to Reading at home.
As was the case for the majority of this season, Coleman’s new team came into this game against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the bottom three.
Wolves were littered with players who went on to become household names in the Premier League over the next few years, with the likes of Conor Coady, Matt Doherty, Ruben Neves, and Diogo Jota.
The game itself was backs against the wall from start to finish. Sunderland, with John O’Shea and Marc Wilson at the centre of defence, guided the team to a resilient draw, which was made even harder by the sending off of Lee Cattermole.
After an uneventful first half, Cattermole made life difficult for his teammates with two reckless challenges.
Cattermole’s red card was slightly harsh. The first challenge on Roman Saiss was certainly a foul, but Saiss’ dramatic reaction likely influenced referee Jeremy Simpson’s decision to book the Sunderland midfielder.
For the second offence, the midfielder could have no complaints. After a heavy touch lost him possession, Cattermole lunged into a challenge, bringing down Jota and giving the referee an easy decision.
From that point onwards, it was all hands on deck for the away side, who were desperately holding on for a point that would have felt like three. Despite Wolves having 76% possession, they rarely threatened Robin Ruiter in the Sunderland goal – with the exception of Jota unleashing a curling effort from outside the box. However, the Dutch goalkeeper made a brilliant diving save to keep the scoreline level.
In the circumstances, the result was a fantastic one for Chris Coleman’s side. With the abundance of injuries and off-field issues he had to contend with, the manager was quick to express his happiness with the result.
I told the players there were two things they could do, duck it or face it. I wouldn’t advise ducking it because, even if you don’t get what you want, at least you have a bit of peace of mind if you face the challenge.
After last week where everything’s going right and then we have a man sent off and end up losing 3-1 you could easily come here and crumble but we didn’t do that.
We have eight or nine players unavailable but it’s about the boys who are available, ready and standing up for themselves and that’s what they did.
John Ruddy, Willy Boly, Barry Douglas, Conor Coady (c), Ryan Bennett, Matt Doherty, Ruben Neves, Romain Saiss, Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro, Leo Bonatini
Subs: Will Norris, Alfred N’Diaye, Danny Batth, Helder Costa, Jack Price, Bright, Enobkhare, Ruben Vinagre
Robbin Ruiter, Tyias Browning, John O’Shea, Marc Wilson, Adam Matthews, Donald Love, Lee Cattermole, Darron Gibson, Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman, Lewis Grabban
Subs: Jason Steele, James Vaughan, Brendan Galloway, Joel Asoro, Tom Beadling, Elliot Embleton, Aiden McGeady