OPPONENTS Sunderland
COMPETITION Premier League
DATE Saturday 7th April 2012
VENUE Stadium Of Light






Sunderland's players have really responded to new manager Martin O'Neill's training and management, as they have moved up to the top half of the table after hanging around the relegation zone under previous boss Steve Bruce for much of the first third of the season.

It is a surprise that the team had started poorly, as it is more or less the same players with the changes made subtle in-house ones, but the new manager effect has propelled the Black Cats up the table. 

With Nicklas Bendtner in attack, he will be looking to score against Spurs to help his parent club maintain third place and while former Spurs loanee Frazier Campbell may be missing with a knee problem, they have Dong-Won Li, a Korean striker who has scored a couple of goals in nearly 20 appearances, while former Ipswich Town youngster Connor Wickham is another option.  A player Spurs looked at long and hard before Sunderland went in first with a bid for the England Under-21 forward, he is tall, strong on the ball and has one hell of a shot on him. 

Another attacking threat comes from midfield in Benin international Stephane Sessegnon, who has been a revelation since signing for the Wearside club.   He prompts play with some astute passing, but can run with the ball like Modric and can finish well too.  The ball-winning presence of captain Lee Cattermole may be missing with a knee injury, but Craig Gardner will take the lead in that role, with the former Birmingham City man also having a good shot on him from open play or dead ball situations.   Former Blackpool man David Vaughan is industrious and can finish well, but may be a sub to start with, while another ex-Arsenal man Seb Larsson is a likely starter with a  goal last week in their 3-3 draw against Manchester City after being 3-1 ahead.  Another dead ball expert and a good crosser, his supply to the forwards will need to be curtailed and he has a replacement in  Ahmed Elmohamady, although not quite as effective as the Swedish man.  The hit of the season for Sunderland has been the emergence of Irish midfielder James McClean, who came on at Spurs and played almost as an attacking left back, but has settled into midfield now.  He has been getting rave reviews and it will be interesting to see how attacking he is when he could be up against Aaron Lennon.  He is strong, full of running and while not quite Gareth Bale, he can be a handful when moving forward.  Jack Colback has also had a few appearances lately after a successful spell on loan at Ipswich Town and he is a hard working player with a good shot too.

Simon Mingolet has taken over in goal from Craig Gordon, with some good performances winning the Black Cats points, but sometimes his judgement in coming for crosses is not spot on and he has been a little suspect with some of his shot-stopping, so if we manage to get our efforts on target, it is worth testing him out.  The home team's defence has tightened up under O'Neill, a characteristic of all his teams, but there is scope to get at them.  There is a soft centre to their defence, with the likes of Michael Turner, Titus Bramble, Wes Brown and John O'Shea not being the top of the picks from the Premier League.  Turner is a tough determined centre-half, with Brown, O'Shea and Bramble all having their days, but they all get pulled out of position and have been responsible for errors that have cost Sunderland goals.  Sotirios Kyrgiakos, the former Liverpool defender, has come on loan into the middle of the defence and might add some aerial presence, but he left Anfield as he wasn't good enough there and may find that his stay is only a temporary one.  It seems to be one of the others playing alongside Turner generally, with Matthew Kilgallon is another option and he has played but has failed to impress at his previous clubs (Leeds United, Sheffield United and West Ham United on loan), although he is decent enough in the air.

The full backs are likely to be on-loan Wayne Bridge and Phil Bardsley.  Bridge had a rocky loan spell at West Ham United last season and has fallen way out of the picture at Manchester CIty, meaning he has to survive on loan moves, as few clubs would want to pick up his wage bill on a permanent basis.  He is quick and likes to attack, but he positioning is questionable when attacked and he may be defending against Aaron Lennon, so it could be quite a test for him.  Similarly, Bardsley on the other flank might struggle to cope for pace against Bale and they might try to double up with McClean to attempt to stop the Welshman.

Spurs might find it harder to score the headed goals they got against Swansea last week against this Sunderland team, who are a big team defensively.  They will have to work hard as you do to beat any Martin O'Neill side, but the manager's lack of attacking adventure sometimes leaves his side vulnerable, as last week, when leading 3-1 with not long left and sitting back cost them the win at Manchester City.  They played very well and should have pushed home their advantage, but thinking back to the League Cup final of 1999, O'Neill's side was set up so defensively, that when Spurs were reduced to ten men, they couldn't change to make the most of the extra man.

I think that out of the two games this weekend, Harry will go for the stronger team in this game.  Being away and against a side on the up, he will be wary of Martin O'Neill's ability to get the most out of his team in a match against one of the big clubs.  It has been a hallmark of the Irish manager's career, so expect the big guns to be out for Tottenham and a draw would be a good result in view of this being our most difficult fixture left, but it is one Spurs need to win.  Hopefully Harry will unleash Bale and Lennon to give the twin threat on the flanks, while he makes sure we have enough players up top to get on the end of their supply and nick a win at the Stadium of Light. 

PREDICTION Sunderland    1      Tottenham Hotspur   2
Click here for more info on opponents - stats v thfc , history, etc.
Knee problems for Lee Cattermole and Frazier Campbell mean that Sunderland will give them until the last minute to prove their fitness. 
Aaron Lennon could be rested, as his hamstring problem continues and he will play only one game over the Easter weekend. 

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Sunderland  0 (0)     
Premier League
Saturday 7th April 2012                              
Venue :  Stadium Of Light
Tottenham Hotspur  0 (0)

Kick off  12:45
None None
Larsson (simulation)  88
Vaughan (foul)  90+3


Sandro (foul)  62
Assou-Ekotto (foul)  89


Crowd :   39,335 Weather :  Sunny, a little chilly
Referee :  Chris Foy (St. Helens) Assistant Referees :  S. Bennett; J. Collin
Fourth Official :  Lee Mason Match Delegate : Steve Howey
Professional Game Match Observer :  D. Laws
Sunderland kicked off and played towards the South Stand end in the first half.
Sunderland : kit Tottenham Hotspur : kit
22  Mignolet

  2  Bardsley (11  Richardson 80)
  4  Turner
12  Kilgallon
14  Colback

  7  Larsson     
  6  Cattermole (c)  (15  Vaughan 76     )
  8  Gardner
23  McClean

28  Sessegnon
52  Bendtner

Unused subs: 
20  Westwood
  3  Bridge
25  Kyrgiakos
18  Meyler
17  Dong Won

  24  Friedel

28  Walker
  4  Kaboul
13  Gallas
32  Assou-Ekotto     

30  Sandro       (  7  Lennon 65)
14  Modric
  8  Parker (c)
  3  Bale

11  van der Vaart (18  Defoe 83)

10  Adebayor  (15  Saha 77)

Unused subs: 
33  Nelsen
21  Kranjcar
29  Livermore

Manager :  Martin O'Neill Manager :   Harry Redknapp
Sponsor :   Tombola Shirt sponsor :  Aurasma
Kit Supplier :  Umbro Kit Supplier :   Puma
Match report

A lacklustre match saw Spurs drop point sin the end of season run-in and Sunderland fans celebrate a most apathetic display for their team that most sides might be vilified for.  But then perhaps Martin O'Neill is the new Messiah and his Easter trick wasn't to rise again up the table, but merely perform the miracle of keeping what you started with.

This was a more typical O'Neill team's performance, in line with most of  the others they have made against Spurs in the past, thus indicating why he only has one career win over Harry Redknapp in twenty odd games.  A lack of adventure and a lack of ability stifled this game to death.  That and the fact that the ball would not roll on the pitch, which hampered both sides.  One great cross-field pass to Bardsley in the second half was crossed first time, but the ball had gripped on the turf and held up, making the full back's ball in end up behind the goal.  It is shocking that there is such a difference in the way that this team and Swansea play the game.

It threw Tottenham that they set up so defensively, with only Bendtner up front, having Sessegnon playing in a deeper role behind the front man so almost playing in midfield.  Cattermole did what Cattermole does.  Rampage into challenges, run around like a headless chicken and get booked; only on this occasion Chris Foy was the referee, so he managed to escape the latter ... not for the want of trying.  It was interesting on one occasion in the second half, when he came out of his half to close down Kaboul on the ball.  Younes passed back to Friedel, which saw Cattermole retreat at pace straight back deep into his own half to make up the numbers behind the ball.

Spurs started brightly with lots of possession as Sunderland looked like a League two side playing away in the FA Cup hoping to limit the damage.  A hurried clearance in the fourth minute was played to Benoit Assou-Ekotto 25 yards out and his sharp shot flew low past Mingolet's left hand post by a couple of feet with the keeper looking like he might not have got it had it been on target.  Modric got into the box and had a weak effort straight at the goalie, while a free kick in the 12th minute was headed back from the far post by Adebayor and it looked on target, but Phil Bardsley stiffened an arm out to stop the ball getting there and it was hacked away.  I didn't really expect a penalty, as Foy missed clearer examples of handball at Stoke earlier in the season.

The Spurs fans were in good voice, out-singing the Mackems, who were probably comatose from the football their side were putting before them.  There were few clear cut chances and Sunderland had a shout for a penalty when one of their players got a foot to the ball following a corner and it popped up onto Scott Parker who was a couple of feet away from him.  It looked like it did hit his hand, but he couldn't have done much to get out of the way, but even then Foy indicated it hit Scott's chest !!  In fact, most of Sunderland's threat came from set pieces, with Turner getting on the end of a Larsson free-kick that Sandro managed to get a touch on as he jumped with the Black Cats defender to go out for a corner.  Few moves they had resulted in anything during open play and a couple of crosses failed to find Sessegnon, who was breaking into the box.

Just before half time, it looked like things might open up for van der Vaart, as Modric tried to go through a couple of home defenders and it ran through to the Dutchman on the edge of the box, but a thigh of a defender got in the way.  The half-time whistle brought a drab 45 minutes to an end and frankly, the early kick-off never helps, but then neither does only one side wanting to play.  You can understand teams not wanting to open up, but perhaps a point against Spurs at home is as good a result of one point away to Man City or a home win over Arsenal. 

For all the possession, Spurs looked a bit jittery in parts.  Sandro looked nervy on the ball, playing short passes or giving the ball away, as he did with a mis-kick on halfway, allowing Sessegnon the sniff of a break, but luckily his long leg reached the ball to knock it away before he made contact with the Sunderland man.  Assou-Ekotto had a strange game too.  Too often he seemed content to sky the ball as high as he could, sometimes only putting his fellow defenders under pressure and from a Spurs corner, he managed the longest back pass of the season from just outside the Sunderland area.

Spurs had been crowded out and you hoped that Sunderland might try and be more offensive in the second period, but that failed to materialise.  Sessegnon found himself in the box, but couldn't get a shot away before a block came in, then ten minutes into the half, Spurs broke with Bale on the right wing, pulling the ball back to Luka, who didn't shoot, but put in a weak back-heel to Rafa, who had to hurry his shot that went way over.  Three minutes later, Bale got his head to Assou-Ekotto's cross from the left and it was a little too high, so he couldn't control his effort that went over the bar too.  As the ball moved to the other end of the pitch, a good low cross by Larsson from their right had to be tucked behind for a corner by Kyle Walker as McClean came in at the far post.

Lennon was introduced for the just-booked Sandro and the double wing attack was back in place, but Sunderland were working hard to stop the ball reaching Bale and Aaron.  In the 73rd minute, Lennon cut in from the right and flicked through to van der Vaart in the box.  He seemed to take a little time to sort his feet out and then left-footed, he put in a  soft shot on goal that was blocked by Turner in front of the line, but the ball popped up again and he seemed to use his lower arm to stop the ball.  While it looked little different to the other two claims for a spot-kick, maybe Turner was aware that Adebayor was lurking behind him and that was the reason behind his arm coming into play ?

More substitutions for both sides followed and then a free-kick for Sunderland came in from Larsson ,with Kaboul doing well to head away, as he had done for most of the game.  It looked a bit dodgy with three minutes left, when Younes went into a tackle with Larsson a few yards outside the box, but the Mackems winger was booked for diving rather than being awarded a well-positioned free-kick for him to have a go at goal. 

Then with seconds of normal time remaining, Bale broke away into the Sunderland half, but he over-played the ball in front of him as he reached the box and Craig Gardner stopped him with a tackle that caught the wing-back on the shin and he hobbled through the rest of the game with Spurs having made three subs already.

It was a lost opportunity, but Sunderland's away day tactics at home stopped us having enough chances to get the ball into the net.  There were few shots that Mignolet had to deal with and the Sunderland defence worked hard to stop that happening, but then that stopped them getting any attacking moves going themselves.  Not quite both teams cancelling themselves out, but one stifling the other.

Mind you, the sight of Martin O'Neill wanting a penalty when the ball hit Parker's arm was funny, as he now looks like a pensioner who is furious at a bus not stopping for him.

Hopefully, Spurs can turn the possession they had today into goals against Norwich on Monday, to try and maintain the gap between us and the chasing mob.

Philip Martin



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What you thought
Benny The Ball We need to be able to break down teams like Sunderland, as more and more teams will do this to us in the remaining games, with more of our opponents in dire need of points than the Mackems were.

Much like I am glad that we are not going for David Moyes as our new manager, I am pleased we didn't get Martin O'Neill as our manager a while back.  Good at achieving relative success with small clubs, but has he really got what it takes to take a big club to the next level ???




Other scores during this week :
Swansea City 0 Newcastle United 2 Friday
Bolton Wanderers 0 Fulham 3 Saturday
Chelsea 2 Wigan Athletic 1 Saturday
Liverpool 1 Aston Villa 1 Saturday
Norwich City 2 Everton 2 Saturday
Stoke City 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Saturday
West Bromwich Albion 3 Blackburn Rovers 0 Saturday
Manchester United 2 Queens Park Rangers 0 Sunday
Arsenal 1 Manchester City 0 Sunday



League Table
  P W D L F A Pts GD
1 Manchester United 32 25 4 3 78 27 79 +51
2 Manchester City 32 21 5 5 75 26 71 +49
3 Arsenal 32 19 4 9 63 41 61 +22
4 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 32 17 8 7 56 36 59 +20
5 Chelsea 32 16 8 8 55 37 56 +18
6 Newcastle United 32 16 8 8 48 42 56 +6
7 Everton 32 12 8 12 34 34 44 0
8 Liverpool 32 11 10 11 37 34 43 +3
9 Sunderland 32 11 9 12 41 36 42 +5
10 Fulham 32 11 9 12 42 42 42 0
11 Stoke City 32 11 8 13 31 44 41 -14
12 Norwich City 32 10 10 12 44 51 40 -6
13 West Bromwich Albion 32 11 6 16 39 42 39 -4
14 Swansea City 32 10 9 13 37 43 39 -6
15 Aston Villa 31 7 13 11 34 43 34 -9
16 Bolton Wanderers 31 9 2 20 36 63 29 -27
17 Queens Park Rangers 32 7 7 18 35 56 28 -21
18 Blackburn Rovers 32 7 7 18 43 67 28 -24
19 Wigan Athletic 32 6 10 15 29 55 28 -26
20 Wolverhampton Wanderers 32 5 7 17 34 70 22 -36


Position before match :  4th
Position after match :  3rd
Position after the weekend :  4th


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