Sunderland 2 Swansea City 0

TWO pieces of individual brilliance wrapped up the points for Sunderland, who otherwise looked an age away from the team which has raised its game since Martin O’Neill took over the managerial reins from Steve Bruce.

Stephane Sessegnon celebrates his goal
Stephane Sessegnon celebrates his goal

TWO pieces of individual brilliance wrapped up the points for Sunderland, who otherwise looked an age away from the team which has raised its game since Martin O’Neill took over the managerial reins from Steve Bruce.

However, when you are not playing well, bits of genius are priceless.

A sublime curling shot from a tight angle by Stéphane Sessègnon followed by a thunderous half-volley from Craig Gardner late in the game put the gloss on what was a surprisingly listless performance from the post-Bruce Sunderland.

The team which had performed with such zest and enthusiasm last week at Stamford Bridge looked as if it was still in West London.

However, such is the way in football, the less than convincing display against Swansea gained the desired result while the impressive performance at Chelsea did not.

The two goals and a Sebastian Larsson shot which hit the post aside, Sunderland’s goal threat was not as potent as it had been in previous weeks – largely due to the midfield’s inability to get the ball off Swansea.

Had the Welsh side possessed a cutting edge up front, the result could have been different but it would be remiss not to credit Sunderland centre-halves Wes Brown and John O’Shea for the impressive way in which they ensured goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was rarely tested.

The gusty conditions – especially in the second half – might not have helped but Swansea found that to be of little distraction as they comfortably retained the ball on the deck.

One thing Swansea did not have, though, were two players who could turn the result with a spark of genius and that is what Sessègnon and Gardner did with two goals which are as good as any you will see this season.

Larsson’s own near-miss was an example of excellent technique and, given what Sessègnon would do 10 minutes later, had the Swede’s effort also gone in, this game could have served up a more interesting spectacle as Swansea would have had to have taken more risks in retrieving a two-goal deficit instead of one.

Inside five minutes, Kieran Richardson surged down the left and his pinpoint cross towards the back-post picked out Larsson, who crashed a volley off Swansea keeper Michel Vorm’s post.

Swansea, though, will be kicking themselves they did not take the lead in 13 minutes – more so given what happened 60 seconds later.

Gylfi Sigurdsson played Nathan Dyer in down the right. His cross was turned towards an unmarked Scott Sinclair but, with the goal at his mercy, he proceeded to blaze the ball over the bar.

Just as Sinclair had unburied his face from his hands, Sunderland went a goal up.

Sessègnon burst down the left and played a one-two with Connor Wickham. The Benin international entered the box with all and sundry expecting a pull-back towards the centre of the area – only for him to curl a delightful chip past a despairing Vorm into the top corner from the tightest of angles.

Swansea’s midfield then began to impose themselves as the Black Cats effectively parked the bus hoping to see if they could pick their visitors off on the counter.

However, getting the ball to do that proved troublesome as the Welsh side knocked it about effortlessly.

All well and good for Swansea, but the lack of cutting edge meant Sunderland could soak up what they had to offer – although Danny Graham will be kicking himself for his miss in 26 minutes. Sigurdsson’s cross to the backpost picked him out unmarked but, with the net waiting to bulge, Graham proceeded to head the ball over.

The second half saw little in terms of goal action as the ever-increasing wind started making miniature tornadoes of the rubbish which had been accumulating in the stands.

Brown and O’Shea ensured Swansea’s forwards could not break through, while Phil Bardsley and Richardson were doing their bit to ensure the flanks could not be exploited.

It was only when the game entered the last 15 minutes chances began to open up, largely thanks to Swansea committing more men forward in their pursuit of an equaliser.

Catching City on the break, Wickham played in James McClean down the left.

The Ulsterman whipped the ball into the box with the diving Sessègnon unlucky not to see his header hit the back of the net.

Another McClean cross fell to Wickham soon after but, from six-yards out, the young striker inexplicably fired wide.

However, from 25 yards out, Gardner found no problem in hitting the target with a sweet strike in 85 minutes.

Priceless indeed.

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