Swansea City 0 Sunderland 0

IT is a long way to south Wales, for this. Seven hundred miles in fact.

Jack Colback of Sunderland battles for the ball with Leon Britton of Swansea City

IT is a long way to south Wales, for this. Seven hundred miles in fact. Another country. Nil-nil.

Still, while Sunderland fell short of the excellence Steve Bruce credited them with at Swansea, there were crumbs of comfort to be had.

The Black Cats may be clawless just now, a lack of confidence imbuing in them anxiety in the penalty box, which has forced a plethora of opportunities to be eschewed, they have at least salvaged compensation in the shape of defensive resolve.

For that, hats off to Simon Mignolet for passing a test of nerve after his error in the Wear-Tyne derby – and Bruce for standing by his Belgian – and a back four bolstered by a first appearance from John O’Shea.

Alongside him and Wes Brown, Anton Ferdinand looks to have knuckled down too. As they say in these parts, tidy.

It is further upfield – for Michel Vorm was not worked that hard to win man of the match – where Sunderland’s current ailments truly lie.

Amid what Bruce exaggerated to be “mass hysteria” but which was at least significant pressure following defeats to Newcastle and Brighton in the past week, his team looked short of belief, that sense of empowerment required to force oneself on the opposition no matter the quality on either side. This Swans outfit only had a single point too, remember (is it any wonder it was goalless?).

Yet lacking that vital spark, that precise craft and inventiveness to carve open sure things, players devoid of the composure that comes with confidence were left snatching at half-chances.

It is, Bruce admitted afterwards, that “killer thing” Sunderland have missed since Darren Bent went south and his former side’s prowess followed. A replace-ment by Wednesday is, surely, a must.

In its absence, this might yet be a good, good point. For while the visitors started well, that didn’t last.

Inside two minutes, Craig Gardner cut in from the right and saw a long-range effort deflected behind from a corner, from which O’Shea headed onto the top of the crossbar.

Minutes later Asamoah Gyan was set up by Larsson, only to fire wide, and then by Stephane Sessegnon, when the Ghanaian was denied by Swans goalkeeper Michel Vorm.

So while chances continued to be spurned, they were at least being forged. The portents were good. That did not last.

Settling into their slick, possession-based pattern, Swansea began to assume a modicum of control after 20 minutes and did not relinquish it before the break. First Kemy Augustien lifted a shot high and wide from distance on 21 minutes. Moments later Scott Sinclair rattled the crossbar from 20 yards, and in quick succession Nathan Dyer then Danny Graham headed off target.

Just before the half-hour mark Leon Britton slipped a cleverly-disguised pass into the area to feed Graham, whose goalbound effort was blocked superbly by Wes Brown.

And after Augustien had escaped censure for a stray elbow into the side of Lee Cattermole’s head, his cross from the left-hand byline was nodded inches wide by Graham.

It had not been anything like a pounding – Sunderland were not run ragged. But half-time was nonetheless a welcome interlude – and respite from the boredom for some – allowing the visitors to gather their thoughts, compose themselves.

Would that Gyan, then Gardner, had taken heed.

For within 10 minutes of the restart both had found themselves in the area with half a yard and a split second to make good on a clear sight of goal. One heavy touch and one moment’s delay, and each opening closed.

And likewise on the hour when Gardner, with a trademark late run into the six-yard box, somehow contrived to head O’Shea’s centre over the bar from nigh-on under it. By then Simon Mignolet had kept Sunderland in it, saving Graham’s header from a deep, swirling Neil Taylor cross, and thereafter the former Middlesbrough striker cut inside from the right to curl a left-foot strike across the face of goal and wide.

A looping header from the same player was then claimed with ease by Mignolet, and the Belgian again saved from Graham – a low, left-foot shot – on 69 minutes.

At that stage the hosts were just beginning to dominate proceedings once more, so on came the cavalry – Connor Wickham and Ahmed Elmohamady, soon followed by Keiran Richardson.

Instantly, Sunderland sensed a lift and, dispossessing Britton to counter-attack, Sessegnon sent Gyan clear. Typically, his shot was too close to Vorm. But at least Sunderland finished the game with good intentions, if for a want of application.

On 82 minutes, Sessegnon’s effort was deflected behind and Colback’s through ball was only marginally too heavy for Wickham, who was then blocked by Ashley Williams before Phil Bardsley was denied by Angel Rangel.

At the death, Sinclair almost headed a late winner, but after the previous 20 minutes that would have been harsh on Sunderland.

It might have woken a few spectators up though.


David Whetstone
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