West Ham 1 Sunderland 1 - Stuart Rayner's match analysis

TODAY marks the six-month anniversary of Sunderland’s last Premier League win.

Kevin Nolan of West Ham United celebrates scoring against Sunderland
Kevin Nolan of West Ham United celebrates scoring against Sunderland

TODAY marks the six-month anniversary of Sunderland’s last Premier League win. Half a year ago at the Stadium of Light they beat a Queen’s Park Rangers team whose ineptitude away from home was threatening their top-flight status.

Fair enough, there are semantics at work.

The six-month period just happens to bridge the summer break.

Sunderland have tasted victory in that time – once, and only against League Two Morecambe.

They are unbeaten in four league matches this season, all drawn.

As manager Martin O’Neill will happily explain to you, the Black Cats could and should have won games in that time, albeit not many.

Saturday’s was one, although had David Vaughan got his head to James McClean’s cross rather than flopping over it, it would have been a travesty.

James Collins’ header clipped the crossbar, Simon Mignolet was forced into a brilliant save and the amount of shots, corners and possession each side had told an accurate story.

However, the brutal fact is the sequence now stretches to 12 games – just short of a third of a Premier League season.

Twelve games are enough to iron out the slings and arrows of fortune.

O’Neill has never overseen such a long lean run.

In an era when they print league tables before some teams’ seasons have kicked off, it is enough time for reflection and judgement.

Managers have been sacked for better runs than this.

The Football League season is only half a dozen or so matches in and already the cull of bosses has begun in earnest.

It would be nonsense to suggest O’Neill’s job is, or should be, under threat, but equally the Black Cats cannot stick their fingers in their ears and pretend nothing is wrong.

It is, and Sunderland need to rectify it with a top-flight win sooner rather than later.

A visit from notoriously sluggish starters Wigan Athletic this week is a chance which cannot be passed up.

Is it me, or were we saying that about the Wearsiders at the start of last season too?

While West Ham were gracelessly beating at their door at Upton Park on Saturday, Sunderland sneaked good chances on the counter-attack.

Substitute Vaughan’s misreading of a straight-forward cross may have been the worst example, but it was not the only opportunity wasted.

As he watched from the stand, owner Ellis Short could be forgiven for wondering if this is all he gets for ploughing so much money into a faraway football club – seeing them desperately clinging on and relying on counter-attacks against a newly-promoted team.

In all four league matches this season, that is how Sunderland have finished.

Maybe it is down to inferior fitness. Probably not. More likely the heavy burden of knowing how long it was since they last won is weighing down legs and restricting ambition.

That is what makes three points, however they are won, so important.

Two of yesterday’s starting line-up – Danny Rose and Steven Fletcher – were not at the club for the first three-quarters of the depressing sequence and it is perhaps no coincidence they were Sunderland’s best players. Uncertainty is a contagious disease which can spread quickly in the close confines of a dressing room.

Fletcher’s immune system, though, seems to be holding up quite well.

He has scored all Sunderland’s four league goals this season, despite having only been signed in time to play in three matches.

However, there is a limit to what a centre-forward can do with his team-mates far away in the distance. When Collins’ terrible attempted pass fell to Sebastian Larsson, Fletcher coolly controlled the Swede’s cross and drilled a shot Jussi Jääskeläinen could get a hand on, but not stop.

O’Neill’s second-half tactics did not help. He dodged a post-match question about whether Sunderland’s timidity was by accident or design but it was he who took off Stéphane Sessègnon – Sunderland’s only real player of guile – to a “who me?” reaction with 20 minutes to go.

Technically his replacement was a centre-forward, but Fraizer Campbell was put on the right of what had become a five-man midfield.

When Campbell succumbed to an apparent stamp on his foot, O’Neill replaced him not with either of the other two genuine centre-forwards on the bench but dogged midfielder David Meyler.

Two minutes later former Newcastle United midfielder Kevin Nolan attempted to hook a volley goalwards from behind him for the third time.

The first had gone just wide, the second produced a brilliant left-handed save from Mignolet. This one found the net.

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