Sunderland face Tottenham at the weekend in a match of some significance. Although most pundits suggest that the Black Cats are now safe from the threat of relegation, they still probably need two or three more points to secure their Premier League status for next season. But Saturday’s fixture will be focused on from a far more human interest angle.
Tottenham’s visit to the Stadium of Light will see many ex teammates reunited in what could be a charged encounter. In recent seasons movement between the two clubs has been great and four Sunderland players could face their former club, not including the ineligible Alan Hutton who – of course – is still a Spurs player. Steed Malbranque spent two memorable seasons at White Hart Lane, notching up 62 league appearances and winning the 2008 League Cup. Although he may still be ruled out of Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury, Andy Reid also had a brief tenure in North London, failing to make an impact and being moved on to Charlton Athletic after just a season. It is easy to forget, but Fraizer Campbell had a brief lone spell with Spurs just last season making ten appearances and scoring just once. But the player for which the weekend’s contest will have the biggest significance is the Black Cat’s top goalscorer Darren Bent whose two seasons at White Hart Lane certainly had its ups and downs.
Bent’s goals to games ratio at the Lane looks fairly respectable. Arriving from Charlton in 2007 for £16.5 million the striker when on to make 60 league appearances, netting 18 times, achieving a ratio of almost one goal to every three games played. The five times England international enjoyed his best time at Tottenham only last season, finishing as the clubs top goalscorer in all competitions. He had his differences with manager Harry Redknapp, who after watching his striker miss a simple opportunity to win the game in the dying minutes of a tie against Portsmouth, now famously stated in a post match interview: “My Missus could have scored that one.” Perhaps from that day onwards, it was a certainty that Bent would quit North London at the end of the season, but his transfer to Wearside was a protracted affair, only resolved after his infamous tweet.
Earlier this season Bent returned to White Hart Lane in the reverse fixture and had a less than successful afternoon. Sunderland sank to a 2-0 defeat with Bent missing a penalty. Ahead of the weekend’s fixture the striker has kept quiet on his feelings of facing his old club once again, but Steve Bruce hinted at what Bent may be feeling, but insisted that he has nothing to prove: “I’m sure Darren will be fired up for the visit of his old club – you always are when you go up against a team you used to play for. You’re always trying to make some sort of point when it comes to a former club. But Darren has got nothing to prove to himself or anyone else. The goals he’s scored this season speak for themselves.” Despite this, if Bent finds the net on Saturday, expect his goal celebration to be particularly vigorous.
A player that may be looking to leave the Stadium of Light in the near future is Phil Bardsley who this week spoke of his frustration at finding himself on the fringes of first team. Since the arrival of Alan Hutton in January, Bardsley has been very much a bit part player in the Black Cat’s set up, although started the last game due to Hutton’s injury and should play a significant role on Saturday due to the Scotland international’s ineligibility. Bardsley told BBC Newcastle: “If it’s to be at Sunderland, or somewhere else, all you want is to play football.” Bardsley was always going to find it tough to find a place in Bruce’s evolved Sunderland set up. At his former clubs he has always favoured dynamic attacking full backs such as Maynor Figueroa at Wigan Athletic and this is not something the tough tackling defender offers. He left Manchester United for £2 million in January 2008 when realizing his first team chances there would be limited so it would be no surprise to see him move on once more for similar reasons.