Sunderland closed out 2012 with a home defeat to a hugely impressive Tottenham Hotspur side at the Stadium of Light. Naturally, we had some thoughts...
What The Gaffer Said
Safc.com found Martin O'Neill in talkative fettle following the game. He said:
We fought really hard to get ourselves in front in the game.
Tottenham hit the bar from a chance we maybe should have cleared, but I don't remember them causing us a great deal of problems in the first half.
We got the goal and it gave us something to go for in the second half but then we came out and conceded two goals in two minutes. It was a major blow and the own goal changed the momentum of the game.
We should have done better leading up to that corner. It went into the net off Carlos' head; we can't do much about that, but the second could have been avoided.
Two goals in two minutes deflated us and it took us some time to get back in the game.
There were moments when we had really decent possession and it's from there where you need to choose the right option.
That is the making of real big players in this league - making the right choices at the right time.
It was a good effort from the players. Maybe they were feeling the effects of Boxing Day a little, especially with 10 minutes to go; we needed a second breath to get at them.
We stuck at it right to the end, still putting pressure on Spurs.
The team never gave up, nor did the crowd.
The thing that really stands out there is the fact he has highlighted the poor decision-making in the attacking third.
It has really crept in of late most notably - but not limited to - instances when James McClean tried to score himself against Manchester United and Manchester City when he had a team mate in a better position.
You never want to criticize a player too heavily for taking responsibility, but good decision-making is probably the biggest single difference between an average player and a good one, and I know that many fans have shared O'Neill's frustrations in that regard of late.
It's not terminal, however, and it can be coached into a player, so absolutely no harm in the manager highlighting it.
It is often said after a defeat that it isn't losing that rankles but the manner in which a game was lost, and that was certainly the case here.
The good will that beating the champions 3 days before brings doesn't hurt, of course, but I think all watching could appreciate that there wasn't too much left in the legs following the colossal effort against City and the vast majority of those were satisfied that whatever was left had been offered up for the cause.
On another day it would probably have been enough to get something from the game, but Tottenham were easily good enough to take advantage and credit to them for that. In fact, I'd say that they were the most impressive visiting team we saw at the Stadium of Light in the whole of 2012.
Sometimes, the better team just beats you. C'est la vie.
That Said... Old Habits, etc...
With that said, the slight grumble is that the initiative was once again surrendered by, not only defensive blunders, but defensive blunders at bad times.
Perhaps I am being a little harsh on Carlos Cuellar there. After all, our defending of set pieces has been excellent, built around making sure we get the first head to it, and the Spaniard has more than played his part in that.
This one could probably be put down to simple bad luck more than anything else. Still, even with the benefit of the doubt applied, it still stuck in the throat a little.
All Hail, or Hug, Frank
Ah Matthew Kilgallon. He is becoming a real guilty pleasure of mine. I love the big daft lad to the point where by I want to give him a man-hug, pat his head, and tell him how proud I am of him for having a go.
He just isn't up to it, is he. He gives it his all, and I think he probably knows he is out of his depth at this level. But that lack of self-delusion is part of his charm I think. He is as honest and genuine as they come.
He is a bit of a footballing Frank Spencer, really. Gets things wrong that he really shouldn't, never gets away with a thing, but you can forgive him for anything.
I don't love him to the point of rooting for him to get a new contract, though. These things get progressively less funny the more they are repeated, and a new contract would be the equivalent of when the TV channel 'Dave' starts a broadcast run. But for now: if you see him, give him a big hug from me.
Some Set-Piece Threat Creeping In
It isn't something we have really excelled at in... well, ever, but the set-pieces seemed relatively on the money against Spurs.
Just as well, really, as we didn't look like creating anything from any other situation, but I genuinely fancied us to threaten from dead balls.
It has always been a hallmark of O'Neill teams in the past and is something that can only be developed over time, so we'll have to wait to see if it was a one-off or evidence of some progressive improvement in the area, but fingers crossed it's the latter.