A defeat to Chelsea is not the end of the world in a league season, but a Blues defence containing John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic would have been one the Ghanaian or indeed Darren Bent – who Sunderland sold in January and have yet to adequately replace – might have enjoyed getting stuck into with his pace and energy. As it was, debutant Bendtner replaced Gyan and was understandably rusty, doing little to threaten the Chelsea goal.
Gyan, of course, had hardly started the season firing having failed to score despite playing the majority of the minutes in Sunderland’s opening three league fixtures. However, his prowess at Premier League level is unquestioned. He left the club, possibly never to return, after Steve Bruce’s cutting post-match comments, having scored 10 goals in 31 appearances before 2011/12 and would have been a vital experienced head while his new teammates were getting to grips with their new surroundings.
Ji’s goal late on against Chelsea was only Sunderland’s second of the season; the other coming on the opening day. It was also the first scored by a striker. It arrived too late to have a say on the result and had it not come it would have been their fourth consecutive game without scoring; games in which Black Cats fans might well have expected to trouble the scorers. The visitors’ strike power on the other hand, even without Didier Drogba, gave Andre Villas-Boas quite the opposite problem with Fernando Torres watching Daniel Sturridge perform excellently and no place in the 18 for promising forward Romelu Lukaku.
While Sunderland did come to life more in the second half after going down 2-0, it is clear their recent arrivals, Bendtner and Connor Wickham – a second-half substitute – will need more time to develop an understanding with each other and indeed the midfielders who provide the chances. One header from Wickham looped over, while Bendtner twisted, turned and toiled but was unable to really threaten. It is time they really do not have with the season in full swing and goals already desperately needed.
The goal eventually mustered will have provided Bruce and the fans with plenty of encouragement as Ji showed alertness and composure to finish from a wonderful Sebastian Larsson cross. Indeed, with seven shots on target in Saturday’s game, just one fewer than Chelsea, Sunderland is at least creating chances. With Ji showing his striking teammates how to finish, perhaps the team can rally despite the loss of Gyan.