Sunderland travel back to the Stadium of Light to host the “in good form again” Spurs that thrashed Swansea with a convincing 3-1 win in Wales. Once being two goals up at the Etihad Stadium last week, Martin O’Neill’s men must again present their confidence and concentration to fend off the Londoners looking for their second win in seven games – one that would also bring them back to 3rd place for at least several hours.
Both teams started with the same lineup last week which meant the less defensive Van der Vaart would be up against one of the sparkling wingers in the league James McClean while Adebayor could give non-regular Matthew Kilgallon a tough afternoon. Ex-Gunner Bendtner would be looking for his 5th goal in eight games but another ex-gunner Gallas may just know enough to silence the threat.
It was an interesting first half with Spurs enjoying 75% of possession but gave away 7 corners, a stat that epitomized their carelessness in moving the ball around – given their abundant talents – that allowed Sunderland, Sessegnon and McClean in particular, to counter on multiple occasions, exactly how O’Neil would have wanted. Sunderland started the half with a deep front line, allowing Tottenham’s back four massive freedom to bring the ball forward as near as the midfield line but at the same time crowding their creative players with little room to conjure any magic.
A low volley just wide of the post from the unusually sluggish Assou-Ekotto and shots from Modric and Van der Vaart (a right footed one) outside the box summed up the threats on a well-protected Mignolet, in which Spurs, Bale in particular, lacked the pace and space to penetrate an industrious Sunderland frontier in the first 45 minutes.
It was not until the 54th minute that Bale managed to get down the byline, perhaps the first time, on the right hand side after skipping past the excellent understudy left-back Jack Colback but his square pass to Modric was too quick for a first-time shot and the Croatian backheeled to Van der Vaart only to see his right footed shot fly into the stands. But disappointingly Spurs reverted to mediocrity shortly. Sunderland continued to intercept and counter through McClean and Sessegnon but the final ball was always lacking.
The much anticipated Aaron Lennon came off the bench for the cautioned Sandro after the hour mark and was immediately involved with a few runs on the flank only to see his teammates remained crowded in the Sunderland half. Saha then came on for Adebayor who was completely frozen out by Michael Turner and Harry Redknapp gambled his last substitution with Defoe coming on for VDV instead of taking off Gallas who seemed to be struggling with his hamstring.
Martin O’Neil responded by sending on a pair of fresh central midfielders David Vaughan and Richardson to maintain his compact defence and tireless closing down gameplan.
Sunderland’s hard work might have been undone at the last minute of official time had Bale managed to skip past Gardner outside the box.
It was a well-deserved point for Sunderland and Spurs had their back four to thank for clearing out a number of quality set-pieces from Larsson throughout the game. The impatient face of Harry Redknapp demonstrated how much he wanted the three points, but the message was poorly passed onto the field, where Spurs simply lacked the urgency and aggressiveness to attempt to disturb the so organised Sunderland defence whole afternoon. Complacency will be the last thing Harry wants to see from the squad, especially when Newcastle has rejoined the race for a Champions League spot again.