WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04: New Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill looks on from the stands during the Barclays Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sunderland at Molineux on December 4, 2011 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
A new era at Sunderland might be on the horizon, but there was a strong reminder that it's not here yet as we went down 2-1 today against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Despite the renewed optimism and excitement around the club, familiar deficiencies were on display as Martin O'Neill witnessed the size of the task first hand from the stands.
Anyway, not much to day, here's the match report with ratings, thoughts and other bits and bobs...
Stand-in-manager for the day Eric Black, made a few changes. With Michael Turner injured during the week, Black resisted the urge to go like for like with someone like Titus Bramble, and instead bring in Ji Dong-Won for his first start in a 4-4-2 formation. Two strikers. Very pleasant indeed and welcoming as new man Martin O'Neill watched from the stands, and apparently didn't interfere with the team selection. Notably also Kieran Richardson returned to the defence following his recent spell of being the odd-job man.
A relatively quiet opening to the game but SAFC certainly the more likely to score. John O'Shea and Stephane Sessegnon those who came closest to opening the scoring with drives of quality at Wayne Hennessey.
Things truly kicked off in the eighth minute when Lee Cattermole gave Dave Edwards a bit of a nudge when challenging for a quickly taken corner, in the confusion Fletcher's header was stopped on the line and despite appeals the ball didn't entirely cross the line. Certainly a let off, and would have been slightly against the run of play.
In the seventeenth minute we managed to draw even on meek penalty appeals when Christophe Berra dragged John O'Shea to the ground. Barring shots straight down the keepers throats for the first twenty minutes, this is about as close as anyone came to breaking the deadlock as Wolves recovered from a relatively subdued opening ten minutes.
After a turgid further twenty minutes of so-called "football" in which our only attacking ploy was "pass it to Larsson", Wolves came the closest of anyone to opening the scoring. A cross whipped in along the six yard box eluding everyone but Stephen Hunt who must have thought it was in, but Westwood got a superb hand on it to keep the scores level.
And in a evenly matched game (not in a particularly exhilarating way), it was only seconds later that we had our own chance stopped on the line. Stephane Sessegnon wriggling round to get the shot in, but Stephen Ward was there to block, the clearance falling nicely to Hennessey before Ji could claim what would have been a tap-in. Or possibly not the way things were going.
And that was our lot for the first half. Very evenly matched, and for me reminiscent of the game with Fulham in which a moment of quality looked required to break the deadlock, sadly it looked like neither team had it.
the second half begun in the same tit-for-tat way the first was for the majority. Nicklas Bendtner wasteful when in the box (at least he was there mind). Whilst Jamie O'Hara for the hosts fired a free-kick from a decent position well over.
You know that moment of quality I mentioned earlier. Well it arrived in the 50th minute when on a breakaway Sessegnon laid the ball at the feet of an overlapping Richardson to smash one down the centre of the goal for 1-0. As the deposed Andy Gray would have said "you don't save those". Also goes some way to proving you don't need Richardson playing off the striker for him to do something good.
Not only that but Richardson proved his worth at the other end too moments later to preserve the lead, clearing the ball as Westwood was beaten by Stephen Hunt's cross. Do we really need to argue whether he's a left back or not any more?
From then on things were certainly open, but to be honest very little seemed to happen. Wolves piled it on without penetrating too much whilst wasted a few chances on the counter. Notably when Bardsley broke forward and a fully awake Bentnder might have clipped home from the edge of the area. Ji Dong-Won also had a header saved comfortably by Hennessey shortly before being withdrawn for Ahmed Elmohamady.
Last week against Wigan, Sebastian Larsson hardly touched Victor Moses and Wigan got a penalty. This week, with refreshed optimism and positivity he himself was the victim of a mild graze and won ourselves a penalty. Seb dusted himself down (as all fouled penalty takers do, dusty or not) however his low drive was well stopped by Hennessey.
Well, we've still had the lead, it could be wor... ah bollocks. Literally 30 seconds later the ball swinging in from Matt Jarvis was horribly misjudged by Wes Brown leaving Steven Fletcher wide open to nod a header downwards, off the skiddy surface and into the roof of the net beyond Keiren Westwood.
Wolves were in the ascendancy from then on, and cool heads were needed to weather the storm. Sadly, none to were to be found as Wolves pressed and pressed, eventually getting the rub of the green when the ball bounced off O'Hara's arm and intentional or not it set up Fletcher to smash into the far corner. Appeals were in vain.
With four minutes to go Bruce, sorry, Black, thought it was about time we gave up on the 4-5-1 and go for it a little. Ryan Noble came off the bench in relief of Stephane Sessegnon. I'm assuming he's on some sort of deal where he gets a minute for every goal scored at reserve level. Luckily if he keeps that up he'll probably get a full half by Christmas.
Four minutes were added, and little threat was offered. At least we're starting a fresh on Monday.
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Westwood (7); Bardsley (6), O'Shea (6), Brown (5), Richardson (7); Larsson (6), Colback (6), Cattermole (5), Sessegnon (7); Bendtner (5) Ji (5)
Subs Used: Elmohamady (5), Noble (6)
Man of the Match: Kieran Richardson - The game was low on standout performers from our side, but Richardson was fairly solid in defence and scored a peach of a goal to give us cause for optimism if only for a few minutes. Not much more to add to that really.
So that's that. The Steve Bruce era is now well and truly over, and a new way of thinking starts on Monday. Luckily it looks like on the basis of today's performance all the backroom boys he brought in will be gone too. Eric Black is probably a 'lovely fella' just like we're often told Bruce was, however today showed just why change is needed. A rubbish match, and little offered by way of inspiration to try and change it up a bit.
Not that it was all Black's fault, there was noticeably poor performances on the pitch, but the failure to recognize those was shocking.
There's work to be done. Lots of it. Tomorrow's not just another day, its another era. It can't come soon enough.
Ha'way The Lads.