STEVEN FLETCHER CELEBRATE!
An odd, odd game at the Liberty Stadium this afternoon. Sunderland looked second best for large parts of the game, yet had ample opportunity to win it with Steven Fletcher grabbing two goals which put us ahead each time. Plus of course there was the sending off of Chico Flores which should have seen us take the impetus, but that never came either.
As we said, an odd game. Nothing it seemed happened for a good 40 minutes or so, then EVERYTHING happened. All in all, it's a point and we can't gumble too much.
We will anyway though, so enjoy our match report from today's 2-2 draw against Swansea City...
Changes were few and far between, and only the expected ones made by Martin O'Neill at the Liberty Stadium today. Simon Mignolet came in to replace Keiren Westwood in goal while Carlos Cuellar returned in the middle of the defence as Titus Bramble dropped to the bench. Jack Colback continued at left-back with new loan signing Danny Rose left out entirely despite travelling with the squad and being eligible.
Swansea certainly enjoyed the better of possession in the opening 15 minutes of the game, but failed to really capitalise on things. A lone strike from inside the area by Nathan Dyer which forced a routine save from Mignolet, while an early corner came to nothing.
As for ourselves, it took a while to really wake up. We held our shape well as we watched Swansea pass the ball about with ease I suppose, but the opening quarter was a quiet one from both sides.
The niceness was broken up in the 17th minute when the impressive Neil Taylor sustained a nasty looking injury following an accidental clash with Craig Gardner. In fact it was Taylor who fouled Gardner, but it was the Welshman who came of worse. Leaving the field on a stretcher and an oxygen mask, it looked very bad for him. Continuing the niceness theme it was good to see both sets of fans applaud the left back off the pitch. Oh, as you might have expected - the freekick came to nothing, straight into the hands of Michel Vorm.
The 25th minute brought about a half chance for Sunderland. Actually, more like a quarter of a chance given no shot eventually came but when Sessegnon robbed Leon Britton near the Swansea area. Unfortunately the Beninese striker couldn't find Steven Fletcher or Adam Johnson who were in close attendance and danger was swiftly cleared by Ashley Williams. The only interesting aside was the home fans not shouting "hoooof" upon the aimless clearance, as was what greeted many a Sunderland version in the first half. Just a minor point that, and the mere fact we're bringing it up an indicator of just how interesting the opening half an hour was.
The 37th minute brought about an end to Lee Cattermole's afternoon. Nope, not sent off, injured. A few minutes earlier the captain clashed knees rather innocuously with Jonathan De Guzman with the 'Boro-born lad coming off with a suspected dead leg which he couldn't shake off. David Meyler came on to replace, with the armband going to John O'Shea.
On 40 minutes the scoring was opened, and it was Steven Fletcher who begun to pay back his transfer fee on his first Premier League start for the club. Chasing down what seemed a lost cause as he did all afternoon, the persistence paid off when Williams got his attempted pass back horribly wrong. Fletcher intercepted, kept his cool and slotted left-footed beyond Vorm for the opener.
It was nearly a two goal lead with three minutes to go to half time when Stephane Sessegnon's long cross was left by Fletcher for McClean storming in at the back post to unleash an absolute thunderbolt of a volley narrowly over. Hit with absolute malice, if it was a few inches lower it would have literally broke the net. As thing were, it probably just broke the face of someone in the middle rows of the stand behind the goal.
The joy was short lived. Six minutes were added on for Taylor's earlier injury and in the first of those Wayne Routledge equalised for the home side. Lovely build up play involving Michu and Dyer lead to Routledge being through on goal and lashed beyond a helpless Mignolet.
Thank God for those six minutes as in the very last of those Steven Fletcher grabbed his second of the game. A freekick swung in by Seb Larsson was flicked backwards (it appears on replay) by a Swansea head, allowing Fletcher to tap in at the back post to an empty net. The referee and his assistant having none of Swansea's protests or appeals for an offside, and what proved to be the final kick of the half was the one that gave us a half time lead.
The home side opened the second half the brighter as they pressed for an equaliser. Nathan Dyer - a thorn in our side all afternoon - forced Mignolet into a smart but comfortable save, and from the resulting corner Britton fired well over.
The home side continued to pile on the pressure with us looking to use the counter attack as our best outlet. The problem was we could barely get the ball back and were wasteful when we did have it for the opening 20 minutes of the second half.
There was an incident where Chico Flores went in very hard on James McClean, sending Martin O'Neill into a furious rage on the touchline. Craig Gardner took the risk of giving away a foul to stop play since Swansea didn't seem keen on doing that. De Guzman's freekick was palmed away by Mignolet into the path of Angel Rangel who's effort was cleared off the line by Meyler.
On 65 minutes the equaliser eventually came via Michu, who to this point had been kept very quiet by our defence, however the pressure eventually told. Having headed down and over moments earlier, he got his head on the end of a decent enough ball into the area, and got ahead of John O'Shea tuck a header beyond Mignolet from close range. A good header, but the fact one of their most dangerous players managed to ghost in like he did was disappointing from our side of things.
Louis Saha came on for Steven Fletcher immediately and his first involvement seemed to be to get kicked in the head by Chico Flores. Chasing the ball down the line, it was a very silly challenge from Chico, and a completely unnecessary one as Saha was running down a dead end. With around 20 minutes to go though, it was also a good opportunity for us to get forward more and relieve some pressure on the defence.
For some reason the pressure never came though, which was a massive annoyance. Swansea continued to dominate things in the game and didn't look like a team down to ten men. For some reason we just didn't look arsed at all.
In injury time some sloppy play from Vorm and Alan Tate lead to a sight of goal for Fraizer Campbell - who'd replaced Sessegnon by this point - but the striker saw his shot blocked and that was pretty much that.
Team (Ratings In Brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (6), Gardner (7), O'Shea (5), Cuellar (6), Colback (6), Cattermole (6), Larsson (6), McClean (5), Sessegnon (5), Johnson (6), Fletcher (8)
Subs Used: Meyler (7), Saha (5), Campbell (5)
Man Of The Match: Steven Fletcher - Two sights of goal and he dispatched both of them. Which is exactly what we lacked for the entirety of last season. Fletcher's off the ball work was good too mind you, constantly chasing down lost causes, and it was noticeable that we looked much less of a threat when he went off for Louis Saha. A weird game, not many positive performances to pick over. David Meyler about as close a contender was was possible for Fletcher, but in no way could he have taken it from the new striker.
More match reaction comes tomorrow morning with Quick Kicks - a newish feature where we provide further thoughts and musings on the game, as well as bring you Martin O'Neill's post-match comments.