Club Focus – Sunderland – Mackems consolidate solid start to the season with a well-earned point against Arsenal

The Black Cats scored a 95th minute equaliser at the Stadium of Light on Saturday to draw with Arsenal. The Gunners had gone ahead through a freak Cesc Fabregas goal but Sunderland never gave up and were rewarded at the very end with a Darren Bent leveller.

The goal was characteristic of a very different-looking Sunderland side to the one that contested last season. The team has now scored injury time goals in their last two home league games and a new, tougher mentality is beginning to emerge. In recent seasons, when the Black Cats have come under pressure, the backline has often looked vulnerable and completely folded. Against Wigan Athletic last week, the Sunderland defence was bombarded during the second half, and although the side – depleted to ten men – did concede a late goal, Sunderland side’s of recent seasons would surely have buckled under pressure earlier, and as a result, not come away with even a point. Similarly, during the home game against Manchester City, the Mackems were under intense pressure from the beginning, but rode their luck and kept themselves in the game, only to be rewarded with a last minute penalty. It is this sort of attitude that will gain them valuable league points and a mentality that was certainly evident against Arsenal at the weekend.

The Gunners probably had the best of the game, and even when they went down to ten men shortly before the interval, with a second booking for Alex Song, Arsenal continued to push for a second goal. They had gone ahead with one of the most freakish goals that will be scored this season. Anton Ferdinand lingered too long over a clearance, and when he eventually attempted to punt it upfield it ricocheted off the back of Fabregas’s boot and flew 40 yards, over Simon Mingolet’s head, and into the goal. It was a cruel blow, but one that Sunderland ensured would not be crucial. This marks a definite change in the mentality of the team, as in recent seasons, an unfortunate beginning to a game such as this one could well have been decisive.

After the game, Bruce described how proud of his team he was, praising their effort: “The performance was absolutely first class,” he said. “They had to contend with that goal but they still got on with it. We still stuck to the game plan and our energy and endeavour paid off. The youthfulness was there for all to see – the players never stopped and it’s good to see.” Darren Bent agreed with his boss’s assessment, describing the team performance as one the best since he joined the club over a year ago. “A couple of years ago Sunderland might have crumbled after their freak goal but it shows the character of this football club now that we came back,” he said.

“That was probably the best performance during my time at the club. Liverpool at home last year was good, but I think this one matched it, if not better.”

Sunderland now turn their attention to the League Cup and tonight’s visit to the Stadium of Light of West Ham United. Bruce will probably choose to field a strong team as he has spoken in the past of his hopes of bringing cup glory to Wearside. Lee Cattermole will still be suspended and there are several injury doubts including Michael Turner and John Mensah. Christian Riveros could well continue in central midfield after impressing on Saturday and it is difficult to envisage replacements for the likes of Jordan Henderson and Steed Malbranque. However, Bruce may offer a way back into the team for the out-of-favour Andy Reid. Reid missed a lot last season due to injury, but is now back in contention and tonight’s game may be the ideal platform for his return. Similarly, Paulo Da Silva might start at the back and Anton Ferdinand will be anxious to keep his place in the back four after his mistake against Arsenal. Up front, Bruce could well revert back to 4-4-2 and play give Asamoah Gyan his full debut, deploying him up front alongside Bent. It is a game that the Black Cats should look to win, as the competition may not exactly be at the top of a vulnerable looking West Ham team’s priorities at the moment.

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