Necessity the mother of invention as Sunderland romp home
Sunderland 3 West Ham Utd 0:Maybe, just maybe, the solution to Sunderland’s lack of deep-lying creativity has been staring Martin O’Neill in the face all along. David Vaughan, starting his first Premier League game this season, controlled central midfield while also linking superbly with the similarly excellent Stephane Sessegnon.
If it was surely no coincidence that Sunderland’s best performance of the season coincided with Vaughan’s emergence from the sidelines, Crystal Palace, who had hoped to sign the former Blackpool player, are now likely to be disappointed. Wearsiders, meanwhile, have received a reminder of just why Vaughan beat the much more vaunted Charlie Adam to Blackpool’s player of the year award a couple of seasons ago.
The question now is whether he can sustain this form and avoid ending up, discarded and gathering dust, at the back of O’Neill’s dressing room cupboard once more.
Throw in the puzzle as to which five players out of Vaughan, Sessegnon, Sebastian Larsson, Jack Colback, Adam Johnson, James McClean, Alfred N’Diaye, Craig Gardner and, once he is fit again, Lee Cattermole will become the manager’s preferred starting midfield quintet and there is much for Sunderland supporters to ponder.
It will be a shame if Colback cannot be squeezed in somewhere. Naturally a central midfielder, he shone at left-back, thoroughly frustrating Joe Cole while deputising for the hamstrung Danny Rose.
“We had two midfield players [Gardner and Colback] at full-back and they were both very good,” O’Neill said. “Jack played remarkably well, he was very composed and read situations really well.”
O’Neill sometimes has the air of a slightly eccentric, yet razor-sharp, headmaster and, as he awarded Vaughan, Larsson – the scorer of a sublime opening goal, struck from 20 yards – and Sessegnon “excellents” he might have been reading out mid-term school reports in morning assembly.
It is hard to imagine Titus Bramble as a model pupil but the recalled centrehalf enjoyed a splendid game, barely permitting Carlton Cole a touch.
Sam Allardyce suspected this said more about Cole and company than Bramble and friends. Dubbing West Ham’s display “pathetic” he was not minded to spare anyone’s feelings. “We didn’t defend correctly, we didn’t have the right appetite to nullify the opposition’s strengths,” said the West Ham manager.
Shocking defending helped Johnson hook in Sunderland’s second goal on the counterattack, and another adroit break led to McClean shooting the third. While Dan Potts floundered at left back, James Tomkins – on for the hamstrung James Collins – did little to suggest Newcastle should part with £10m in exchange for his central-defensive abilities.
More positively, N’Diaye, O’Neill’s imposing midfield buy from Bursaspor, shot narrowly wide with his first touch as a late substitute and he could soon be joined by the 6ft 5in Senegalese centre half Kader Mangane, set to arrive on loan from Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia.