Swansea City 2 Sunderland 2 - Mark Smith's match analysis

SO, this is what 12 million quid, give or take, buys you.

Steven Fletcher of Sunderland
Steven Fletcher of Sunderland

SO, this is what 12 million quid, give or take, buys you. Two shots, two goals. All in a day’s work for Steven Fletcher.

There is plenty more to come from the Scottish striker according to both him and his manager, but Saturday’s Black Cats’ Premier League debut was not bad for starters.

Economical in his physical exertions after a limited pre-season, what he lacks in fleet of foot is more than made up by his lightning-rod presence up front – jumping, trapping and scoring with little fuss or fanfare.

An attacking totem-pole in the making, his efficient contribution came on a day which left plenty of other questions unanswered.

In an era when possession football seems the best route to trophies, there was precious little of it on show. Not from Sunderland, anyway.

Spending much of their afternoon chasing midfield shadows, the 38th-minute departure of skipper Lee Cattermole only exacerbated the problem.

David Meyler may be as sturdy a citizen as they come, but a nervous and error-strewn hour only heightened the dependence on a positive injury bulletin on his captain’s dead leg.

Adam Johnson, quickening the pulse against Morecambe midweek, was quiet in comparison four days later.

Perched on the right, the England international’s involvements were scarce in frequency or potency, and while the smart money remains on his transfer being a masterstroke by Martin O’Neill, he will need to offer much more than this. James McClean, too, fresh from his Capital One Cup double, was having one of those days where more effort equalled less outcome. Head down, legs pumping, his sat-nav seemed to lose its signal as repeated diagonal runs ended in a series of attacking cul-de-sacs.

There was plenty of good stuff as well, it should be stressed, in a creditable away draw against a Swansea side hitherto scoring eight and conceding none in league action.

Carlos Cuéllar seemed the name most immediately leaping off the page with an assured display at centre-back, where his partnership with John O’Shea looks better with every outing.

The stubbly Spaniard eats breeze-blocks for breakfast – or at least it appeared that way as he comfortably dealt with most of what Swansea threw at him. Hassle-free headers, well-timed tackles and vocal marshalling of those in front of him all bode well for a profitable season.

At right-back Craig Gardner held the fort admirably, and with deadline-day arrival Danny Rose not considered for selection, Jack Colback fared similarly down the left, save for Angel Rangel’s increased attacking freedom later on.

Stéphane Sessègnon, by his manager’s own admission, is short of a gallop, and all things considered it was a surprise to most when Sunderland snatched the lead on 40 minutes. Coming largely against the run of play, when home skipper Ashley Williams under-cooked his back-pass, it gave Fletcher a glimmer of his first scoring opportunity. Shown the far corner by onrushing keeper Michel Worm, he took it clinically.

The final five minutes of the opening half managed more in the way of incident than the previous 40, save for the early departure of Swansea left-back Neil Taylor who was stretchered off with a broken ankle after fouling Gardner and trapping his studs in the turf.

Home boss Michael Laudrup had no complaints despite the ill-judged protestations of his supporters, and the silky Dane once again cut an impressive presence in the technical area.

He could have strode straight in from a Martini commercial with his sharp suit, kangaroo-hide winklepickers and slick-back hair-do, although O’Neill in his faded rugby shirt, tracksuit bottoms and Copa Mundials has a certain fashion factor about him too for those of a more earthy persuasion.

It was the home boss who had most to celebrate in the opening minute of first-half injury time, when Nathan Dyer’s brilliantly-lobbed ball into the box allowed former Newcastle winger Wayne Routledge to drill home the equaliser.

But if they thought the momentum was shifting their way, Fletcher’s crafty back-post run from a Larsson free-kick brought Swansea spinning back down to earth as he beat floundering centre-back Chico Flores for the simplest of tap-ins and a 2-1 half-time lead.

The second half began in the same manner as the first, Swansea dominating possession, although it was more latitude than longitude as their East-to-West passing yielded negligible end product. Instead it was a more direct route that eventually paid off, although they had to wait until the hour mark when Rangel’s dangerously-whipped ball found the head of Michu on the penalty spot.

Beating O’Shea to the ball, the bargain acquisition coiled his neck muscles, levered his body and fired a missile of a header into Simon Mignolet’s bottom right-hand corner.

Honours even then, although not in playing numbers as Flores’ nightmare afternoon got significantly worse with 20 minutes to go. Having remarkably been ignored by the officials when clattering McClean earlier in the half, his head-high kick on Louis Saha drew red without hesitation.

If Sunderland fans were expecting their numerical advantage to produce a winner they were left unfulfilled, although a draw at the Liberty these days is by no means a failure.

These are two teams on an upward trajectory, and the beauty for the Black Cats is that there is significant scope for that to steepen further.

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