In a competition that the Black Cats could probably have afforded make a priority, Sunderland were subject to a 2-1 defeat by in-trouble West Ham United on Tuesday. This weekend the side travel to Liverpool and Steve Bruce must ensure his team continue their recent impressive league form, despite the midweek blip.
One of very few positive aspects of the game was that Asamoah Gyan scored his second goal in three appearances for the club on what was his full debut. This was a response to Frederic Piquionne’s opener although the Black Cats’ equalizer was barely deserved, the Hammers looking the superior outfit throughout the game. Victor Obinna grabbed the winner after some promising spells from the home side, and West Ham deservedly progressed to the next round. What will be worrying for Bruce is that he selected a strong team for the game. He was clearly prioritizing the completion ahead of what many of his fellow Premier League managers seem to consider an unnecessary distraction, but his side’s limp performance is certainly a cause for much concern. What was particularly embarrassing about the result was that it was West Ham’s first away victory in over year, but notably it was only the second time Sunderland have lost at the Stadium of Light in 2010.
Bruce was clearly annoyed after the game, saying: “It was disappointing all round. We looked flat from the moment we started. Our edge wasn’t with us and we paid the price for it. In management you look and you think, ‘could I have freshened it up a bit more? I picked a team which I thought was strong enough but we were lethargic and not at it. That was disappointing.” After such a strong performance at the Stadium of Light only days previously against Arsenal, the result and performance were not only, as Bruce stated several times, disappointing, but also deeply puzzling. The reasons behind the flat performance from many of the players are something that the Black Cats’ manager should look into and resolve quickly. To compound a disappointing evening three players picked up injuries during the game. Kieran Richardson pulled up with a hamstring injury in the second half. The former-winger-turned left-back has put in some impressive performances this season, after being a target of fans’ frustrations last season, and with the squad decidedly light on left-backs, losing Richardson for any amount of time will be a big concern. Gyan and Anton Ferdinand were the other two players who had to be substituted and are major doubts for the weekend’s game.
Motivation is unlikely to be an issue this Saturday as Sunderland travel to Anfield to face Liverpool. The Merseyside club have had a very weak start to the season, summed up by their exit from the League Cup at the hands of Northampton Town in midweek. That said, the game will still be a huge challenge for the Black Cats, as Roy Hodgson’s side will undoubtedly want to bounce straight back after such an embarrassing defeat. Despite a good showing last time out on the road, Sunderland’s away form under Bruce has been miserable, and any kind of result against a Liverpool side, even one in such poor form, would be something of a surprise. Lee Cattermole will be back for the game after completing his two match suspension, and by his own admission, will need a good run of games in order to get back to full fitness after a string of injury problems, but this will be impossible if he keeps getting himself sent off. Liverpool are clear favourites for the game on Saturday, but the Mackems definitely stand a chance of getting a result. The Sunderland players will hope to harness the big match atmosphere at Anfield and put in a spirited and energized performance. If they do this they certainly stand a chance, as on the pitch their opposition should be regarded as a fellow mid-table side as opposed to Champions League contenders.