West Ham United 0 Sunderland 0: Stuart Rayner's match analysis

Sunderland failed to win their must-win game but left Upton Park with cause for optimism - if only they can find a goalscorer in January

2013 Getty Images Mohamed Diame of West Ham United is tackled by Sebastian Larsson of Sunderland
Mohamed Diame of West Ham United is tackled by Sebastian Larsson of Sunderland

So presumably Saturday was the day Sunderland were relegated from the Premier League, right?

In the run-up to their match at West Ham United, Gustavo Poyet was telling anyone who would listen it was a must-win game. They did not win it.

Fortunately for the Black Cats, it was another example of the hyperbole Poyet is prone to from time to time.

All is not yet lost, but time is running out and this was one of the best opportunities they will have on their travels this season missed,

Even so, an uninspiring 0-0 draw did give plenty of hope if only Sunderland can find a goalscorer in January - preferably early January – they could yet keep their heads above Premier League water.

The trick is to keep as close to it as possible until then.

Few West Ham fans would have disagreed with Poyet’s post-match assertion that “we did not look like the worst team in the Premier League.”

All the plaudits went to the away side, who were more attractive and effective.

Yet while the hapless Hammers nudged the gap between themselves and the relegation zone a point wider, Sunderland are no nearer safety.

A team which is good at everything but scoring goals is not a good team at all. That is what Poyet has at present.

The Wearsiders have not scored away since August. It is a damming statistic.

If ever there was a time to record a first away win of the campaign, this was it.

 

West Ham were there for taking. Confidence is at rock bottom and when the home team is not playing well few on the Upton Park terraces are of inclined to help them with any encouragement.

It was painfully obvious Sam Allardyce badly needs the striker he paid £19m for in the summer, Andy Carroll, to start making some appearances this season.

Kevin Nolan was suspended at the weekend, Stewart Downing injured.

With the exciting Ravel Morrison having a quiet afternoon and Joe Cole’s brilliance having burnt out long ago, the Hammers were bereft of creativity. Mohamed Diame was their best player, but he is an artisan, not an artist.

Sunderland had no such excuses. All their best forward-thinking players – with the possible exception of unused substitute Craig Gardner (and that is arguable) – featured.

Yet 18 months of carrying Sunderland’s goalscoring burden on his shoulders has caught up with Steven Fletcher, reduced to the role of substitute in the East End.

Fabio Borini looks neither one thing nor the other, seemingly used out wide only because he is too milky to be a genuine centre-forward. Jozy Altidore continues to look lightweight in front of goal. Ki Sung-Yeung – in a more advanced role – was the afternoon’s most likely creator, but there was no one to finish his work.

As is often the case, Emanuele Giaccherini and Adam Johnson failed to stamp their authority.

As a result, it was like watching two bald men fighting over a comb and seeing them drop it down the drain.

As Vito Mannone pointed out afterwards, Sunderland had 19 shots at goal. With Phil Bardsley’s long-range effort hitting the crossbar and a questionable penalty-area challenge on Altidore by George McCartney, they could justifiably argue their luck was out - but they did not push it enough.

Bardsley’s effort apart, too many of their efforts were weak and too close to Jussi Jaaskelainen. It comes to something when your left-back – and Bardsley is not even that really – is your biggest threat.

Nineteen games into the season he is the club’s joint top-scorer in all competitions with three goals, Giaccherini his only equal.

West Ham’s left-back came closest to scoring for them too, former Sunderland full-back McCartney putting in an added-time cross Mannone had to hastily touch over when the miscue nearly took it under the crossbar. If Mannone was chronically under-worked, his opposite number Jaaskelainen hardly had that much to do.

He made good saves from Ki and the returning Lee Cattermole and was made to stretch by Altidore.

The story of Altidore’s season so far has been of good performances without ever looking like scoring. He did something about that unfortunate equation on Saturday – the problem was he changed the wrong bit.

Normally so good, Altidore’s first touch at times was horrendous.

It ought to have cost Sunderland once but - having collected the gift, nutmegged John O’Shea and teed up Modibo Maiga – Diame had to watch the striker miss the target under pressure. When Seb Larsson cleverly pulled a 45th-minute corner back to the foot of Altidore, the American somehow let the ball roll under it.

At least when, for the third time in quick succession around the hour-mark, Sunderland played the ball across to a player free on the edge of the area from the left, Altidore was the first to put his shot on target.

As he had done when Ki threaded Altidore through in the sixth minute, Jaaskelainen made a neat low save.

The striker was eventually substituted in the search for goals.

So was Borini. When Altidore had charged down a James Collins free-kick just yards away only for an off-form Andre Marriner to wave play on, Borini was sent clean through on goal. He hit his shot straight at the grateful goalkeeper.

Eight minutes later Ki had put a cross over which was begging to at least be put on target but Borini’s near-post header flicked it beyond the far post. They were not the actions of a ruthless goal machine.

After the game Allardyce revealed he is in negotiations with an “attacking player.” The Black Cats must hope the same is true of Roberto De Fanti.

They might be able to rebuild their own from the shell of one inside Fletcher’s shirt, but they are crying out for attacking reinforcements.

Players you can rely on to find the net are expensive. If Ellis Short does not dig deep to pay for one, the long-term cost will surely be far greater.

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