Connor Wickham had a decent game today, lets hope he keeps it up.
It was a case of honours even at the Stadium Of Light today. Very even in fact. Perhaps too even maybe. The game itself far from a classic, but a point is better than a defeat.
That's all you can really take from the game if we're fair. An open first half, a dull second half and neither team with a difference maker when it mattered.
At least Bent didn't do much I suppose. Here's our little match report from this afternoon's action...
Steve Bruce (rightly) named an unchanged XI and subs bench for the visit of Villa to the Stadium of Light, meaning we saw more of the promising front trio of Nicklas Bendtner, Connor Wickham and Stephane Sessegnon.
Of course the game's sideshow was always going ot be Darren Bent, returning to the North East after... oh you know what happened.
Luckily, the pantomime didn't last all that long as the collective mood in the Stadium was to boo for a while, primarily as the teams were read out accompanied by various chants and justified obscenities.
And indeed it was Bent who was first to delight the crowd, winning a shoulder-to-shoulder charge with Michael Turner before the ball trickled out of play, much to our delight.
After that we really grew into the game, in particular Sebastian Larsson who was ping balls around like it was nobodies business, first getting a sighter in after only 3 minutes straight at Shay Given, followed by a series of top quality freekicks which nobody could get on the end of. Perhaps they were simply too good.
With us having the better of the exchanges, it was inevitable Villa would do something. They were just sort of lay in wait for us to fail to do anything with our advantage. Gabby Agbonlahor played in Bent to nearly give the game the worst possible opening but luckily Richardson was awake to it.
Richardson was awake then, but unfortunately everyone else was still asleep as Villa's Stilyan Petrov opened the scoring with a belting goal. Following a corner for us, Villa broke and somehow Agbonlahor managed to play a slow cross field ball along the ground to a wide open Alan Hutton. Where Turner, Brown, Colback and Vaughan were I've no idea, but Hutton accepted the invitation, played in Petrov to guide the ball into the top corner from 20 yards.
Something in your gut felt maybe after all the billing a defeat could have been on the cards. Especially as following the opening goal Villa did pretty well nullifying any threat. Turner nodded over from 8 yards, and the afore mentioned Wickham off the line incident the best we could muster in the ten minute post-goal.
And what an impact the adopted Scot had... Not involved in the play whatsoever as Connor Wickham equalised, but surely his introduction to the field was enough to get everyone going. Of course it wasn't, I'm just looking for a segway into the goal... Richardson plays in Sessegnon who does incredibly well to escape the defender, slip in Wickham who calmly slotted left footed past Shay Given for a deserved equaliser.
Unfortunately, that was the last action of the half really. A strange first half I felt. The game was wide open, relatively even, yet you felt we had a little more about us, and a Bolton-esque second half was on the cards.
The second half came, and to be honest for large parts it was a bit rubbish. The first real action coming when Emile Heskey clattered Simon Mignolet, forcing the Belgian off. At the time I thought Mig was just looking for the freekick, but clearly shaken and holding his nose one assumes there's a concussion and a broken nose there. It wasn't malicious at all, just clumsy. What else would it be from Heskey really? On comes Keiren Westwood for a league debut.
As said, the second half was fairly flat, with neither team seeming to want to take a hold of the game. Turner again nodded over unmarked from close range, and Bendtner followed suit shortly after both following great deliveries from Sebastian Larsson. Again.
Larsson, at the heart of anything good for us today, stung the palms of Given from a freekick again, shortly after the hour before yet another lull in play.
We know from our experience of him being at the club, Darren Bent is at his most dangerous when there's nowt happening, and that was exactly the case as nice play between him and Agbonlahor left him one-on-one with Westwood, however Bent bottled it and Westwood's foot saved the day, and chants of "what a waste of money" emanated from the South West Corner.
Time wore on, with little at all happening and you felt one goal would win things, unfortunately it was Villa who did it. Sebastian Larsson who had been great throughout, gave away a needless freekick on the far touch line, and Petrov's whipped ball was guided in by the big lad, Richard Dunne. Well, at least it wasn't HIM.
Surely that was it. Game over... not at all, as we lightly threatened the Villa goal, Larsson made ammends for his earlier indiscretion and fired in ANOTHER wonderful freekick, nodded home by the smallest man on the pitch, Stephane Sessegnon. Michael Turner - that's how you do it.
Four minutes added on had the home crowd roaring for a winner, and despite a frantic and end to end few minutes, we just couldn't nick one. A 2-2 draw probably about the right result on the overall balance of play.
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (6), O'Shea (6), Turner (6), Brown (6), Richardson (7), Vaughan (7), Colback (6), Larsson (8), Sessegnon (7), Bendtner (7), Wickham (8)
Subs Used: Bardsley (6), Westwood (7), Meyler (6)
Man Of The Match: Connor Wickham - A tough decision for MOTM as Larsson was at the heart of all our good play, but most the time Wicks was on the end of it. Tireless running, a constant danger to Dunne and Collins who didn't seem to know what to do with him, and really played well beyond his years. The future is very bright for the lad. An honorable mention to Bendtner too, who's ability to bring others into play is at times a joy to watch.
I'm not sure what to make of this game in reflection. We got a point I suppose, we didn't lose, we showed some decent character to bounce back from Dunne's late goal? It all feels like a little bit of a damp squib. I'm not feeling particularly miserable, however not overjoyed either as you'd think with a late equaliser.
I really thought we'd win this one, and win it well but it wasn't to be. We'll have these sorts of weeks, and we can look back as it being a point gained rather than anything lost.
Onwards and upwards, ha'way the lads.