Sunday Premier League round-up – Larsson ensures Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland reign starts with victory, Tottenham’s winning streak halted at Stoke
Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn Rovers
Martin O’Neill’s reign at Sunderland began in metaphorical fashion – a dogged performance and three points providing a snapshot of O’Neill’s managerial career to date.
After a year and half away from the dugout, O’Neill was back to bouncing up and down the touchline, having witnessed Sunderland’s late collapse at Wolves last week from the stands.
His side began brightly but it was fellow strugglers Blackburn who dampened the early party mood at the Stadium of Light. Rovers captain Chris Samba controlled and shot from a tight angle which was blocked by Black Cats goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, only to rebound for Simon Vukcevic to nod in.
Sunderland’s response was immediate with Kieran Richardson to the fore. First, his close range effort was rebuffed by Rovers goalkeeper Paul Robinson, before a deflected attempt flew just wide. However, with half time nearing, Blackburn will have felt aggrieved at Scott Dann’s disallowed goal, with goalkeeper Westwood appearing to collide with Samba rather than vice versa.
Westwood would see no more involvement as Blackburn failed to register a meaningful attack after the interval, leaving Yakubu markedly isolated and content to protect their slender advantage.
Even if Sunderland’s shortcomings in attack did not merit reward, Blackburn’s stubbornness to move forward warranted some retribution. As it turned out, midfielder David Vaughan’s unstoppable pile driver to equalise inflicted damage not only on Blackburn but on the goal net which, in its defence, did remarkably well not to rip.
With six minutes to play the home fans sensed a turnaround of last week’s proportions, this time with Sunderland being the beneficiary. Deep into stoppage time, O’Neill’s debut got its fairytale ending. Sebastian Larsson added to his burgeoning collection of free kick goals, managing to get the ball up over the wall and back down low off the post.
There just might be some truth in one prophetic banner displayed by the Sunderland fans: ‘Our season starts here’.
Stoke City 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham’s fine run of six successive Premier League victories came to an end in entertaining, yet somewhat controversial, circumstances at the Britannia Stadium.
Now in their fourth season as a Premier League club, Stoke’s attacking strategy should be well known to opponents. However, understanding a threat and nullifying it are related yet distinct practices and Spurs needed less than one minute to be reminded of the fact.
Ryan Shotton, a capable deputy for Rory Delap, launched a long throw into the Spurs box which resulted in Brad Friedel getting down smartly to parry a Matthew Etherington volley. Spurs survived on this occasion but the pattern of the first half had been firmly established with this first minute incident.
The breakthrough arrived in the 13th minute when Shotton’s cross was first flicked on by Jonathan Walters and kept alive by Peter Crouch before Etherington fired home from close range. Just before the break the same amalgam, minus Crouch, combined to double Stoke’s lead. Another Shotton throw found its way to Etherington via the head of Walters and the former Spurs winger scored his second of the game, and of the season.
Stoke began the second half in similar fashion but the flow of the game deviated after Emmanuel Adebayor successfully converted a penalty kick on 62 minutes. Glenn Whelan was adjudged to have tripped Luka Modric though replays were less conclusive. What is clear is that Spurs had an even more legitimate claim for a penalty minutes later when Ryan Shawcross refused to let go of the arm of Younes Kaboul.
Tottenham’s fight back had been ignited and suddenly Stoke stopper Thomas Sorensen was busy between the sticks. The Dane kept out Modric and Scott Parker from distance and Adebayor curled narrowly wide.
Another penalty claim was waived away when Kaboul’s goal-bound shot was blocked on the line by the arm of Shawcross. Kaboul was proving a prominent figure in the second half and his dismissal, for a second yellow card offence eight minutes from time, extinguished Tottenham’s hopes of an equaliser.