It’s games like this that reminds us just how close we came to establishing ourselves as a force in the Premier League under Steve Bruce, and also of the huge missed opportunity.
After the magic carpet ride, Roy Keane had departed in the December of 2008 and Ricky Sbragia steadied the ship enough to make sure we avoided the drop, just. In the summer, we had something of a reset, with Steve Bruce being poached from Wigan Athletic.
By the end of the summer transfer window Bruce had confirmed the signatures of Lorik Cana, Lee Cattermole, Darren Bent, Frazier Campbell, Paulo Da Silva, Michael Turner and John Mensah as we sat 6th in the table after the first five games.
That early season high didn’t last over the course of the season and with six games of the season remaining we had dropped to 13th in the Premier League table and next up was a visit from Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur to the Stadium of Light.
Bruce’s Sunderland were more or less one victory away from securing Premier League status for another year, but Spurs were in a dogfight with Manchester City and Liverpool to capture 4th with the reward of Champions League football. Redknapp’s side were the current occupants of that position with Manchester City two points behind in 5th and Liverpool trailing by four points in 6th.
Sunderland began the game with a much higher tempo and workrate than our visitors and in the opening minute, Darren Bent opened the scoring with his 21st of the season, pouncing on a rebound following a Frazier Campbell shot. This would have particularly pleased the ex-Spurs striker, with Redknapp’s comments comparing his finishing during the previous season with how his wife might have done so.
On 23 minutes, we doubled our lead and Bent doubled his tally from the spot after Kyle Walker was judged to have handled the ball in the box - which led to Bent gesturing in the general direction of Redknapp during his celebration.
Before half-time he had an opportunity to do it all over again after Luka Modric fouled Campbell in the area and once again Bent stepped up to the plate. On this occasion, Heurelho Gomes was up to the task and tipped the ball past the post.
Early in the second half, history repeated itself with yet another penalty awarded to the Lads, this time it was David Meyler who was felled by Wilson Palacios and like before, Gomes saved the spot kick.
After Anton Ferdinand had a goal ruled out for offside, Harry Redknapp turned to Peter Crouch from the bench and a minute later, things got nervy when the substitute headed home past Craig Gordon, who had been in great form denying Spurs until that point.
Nails were bitten until there were four minutes remaining when Bolo Zenden met a Jordan Henderson cross with a level of technique that makes fans drool. The Dutchman hit a left foot volley that gave Gomes no chance and all but sealed three points for Sunderland.
The defeat left Harry Redknapp scratching his head regarding his own teams failings as well as the level of performance by the home side:
It was an open game and we were an open looking team. The race for fourth is still wide open but we just need to get a couple of our injured players back. Sunderland were up for it today, they chased and they pressed. They don’t play like that every week, though, do they?!
Saturday 3rd April 2010
Barclays Premier League
Sunderland 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
[Bent 1’, 23’ (pen), Zenden 86’ - Crouch 72’]
Sunderland: Gordon, Ferdinand, Turner, Da Silva, Richardson, Henderson, Meyler, Cattermole, Malbranque (Zenden), Campbell (Bardsley), Bent (Jones) Substitutes not used: Carson, Liddle, Kilgallon, Benjani
Tottenham Hotspur: Gomes, Walker, Assou-Ekotto (Kranjcar, Palacios, Bassong, Kaboul, Bentley (Defoe), Modric, Gudjohnsen, Pavlyuchenko (Crouch), Bale Substitutes not used: Alnwick, Dervite, Rose, Livermore