Match Report: Sunderland 0-0 Spurs - Cats Dig In To Claim Battling Point
This contest was rich in urgency, commitment, and endeavour, but unfortunately neither side remembered to bring their quality with them on to the Stadium of Light pitch. Lets be honest, as a game of football it pretty much stank the place out.
Despite talk of squad rotation in the week, Martin O'Neill named an unchanged side. That meant that Matthew Kilgallon, master of the robona, was fit to retain his place in the continued absence of John O'Shea. It also meant that Jack Colback's general magnificence transcended to a level where he can keep two full England internationals, Kieran Richardson and Wayne Bridge, out of the side - whilst playing out of position.
The visitors also went unchanged from last week's win against Swansea, with Harry Redknapp resisting the temptation to bring Aaron Lennon back into the starting line-up. Scott Parker, presumably, picked up his Sky man of the match shortly before kick-off as usual to save time later.
The game started in much the same manner that they often since O'Neill arrived at the club. Sunderland retreated to their own half, dug themselves a bit of a trench, beat their chests, and challenged the opposition to break them down.
Tottenham, who arrived on Wearside embroiled in a tough battle to ensure Champions League qualification, were happy to take the initiative, and Benoit Assou-Ekottu flashed an early warning shot just wide of Mignolet's left-hand post with the Belgian sprawling across goal.
Although dominant on the ball, Spurs struggled to really impose their quality on the first half. That is not to say the Sunderland trench didn't creak on occasion. The visitors had a decent penalty claim turned away when Adebayor's header appeared to strike the arm of Phil Bardsley, and Scott Parker and Rafael van der Vaart both saw goal-bound long-range efforts blocked.
But the first half was not a one-sided affair by any means. Sunderland gradually advanced from their positions to embark on brief and tentative raids in Spurs territory. Set pieces grew in importance, but with Sebastian Larsson really looking in the mood to deliver, a sprinkling of set pieces can potentially go a long way with Turner, Bendtner, and Gardner all on the end of half chances.
The second half was a very marginally more open affair, however. Spurs once again started the brighter, with Gareth Bale's influence beginning to grow. Words not customarily welcomed around the country when Spurs are in town. The Welshman first wriggled away from Jack Colback down the right before engineering a chance which van der Vaart blasted over, and then he himself got on the end of a cross before heading just over.
Sunderland responded. Assou-Ekotto was called into action at the back post to deny James McClean following fine build-up work from Sessegnon and Larsson down the opposite flank, then Bardsley fired a typically opportunistic long-range shot straight at Brad Friedel in the Spurs goal.
After that, the game somewhat fizzled out. Substitutes were thrown on, and Tottenham's urgency increased, but a fairly desperate handball claim against Turner and Craig Gardner - moved to full back - producing a quite brilliant last-man tackle on a marauding Gareth Bale were the sum of their efforts.
One sour note was the pretty clear dive in the second half from Sebastian Larsson as he looked to win a free kick. Inconsequential, it may have been, but cut it out eh, Seb!
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (6), Bardsley (6), Turner (7), Kilgallon (7), Colback (8), Larsson (6), Gardner (6), Cattermole (7), McClean (6), Sessegnon (7), Bendtner (6).
Subs Used: Vaughan (6), Richardson (6)
Man of the Match: Jack Colback - Another tremendously solid display at full back from Colback. So good, that O'Neill dared not move him even when Kieran Richardson came off the bench. A performance which perfectly married tenacity and quality. And you know what? It surprised nobody. Sunderland have a real talent on their hands.
So that was that. As drab and dreary a 0-0 draw you are ever likely to see. Sunderland unquestionably played a spoiling and defensive game, you have to acknowledge that. But as long as the Premier League continues to allow and encourage such a disparage in wealth across the division then we have no apologies to make for that.
One of the worst games anyone will see this season, but we'll take the hard-earned point and clean sheet.
Ha'way the lads.