IAN HARTE’S resurrection into Premier League player seems particularly remarkable given his minimal impact on Wearside and the way he drifted into obscurity in League One, writes Chris Young.
On the evidence of yesterday, the top flight may still be a step too far for the 34-year-old, yet what has never been in doubt, is the former Republic of Ireland international’s ability from set pieces.
Harte’s left foot remains an instrument of quality, both from free-kicks and corners.
Such elementary knowledge of its dangers made it all the more inexplicable that Sunderland were so keen to provide a stage for Harte.
Time and again throughout the second half, the Black Cats conceded needless free-kicks around the fringes of their own penalty area.
Sunderland couldn’t say they weren’t warned.
In the first half, Simon Mignolet was forced to pull off a brilliant save after Harte’s free-kick brushed off the head of Pavel Pogrebnyak and in the second, the full-back again forced the Sunderland keeper into action from 25 yards, before Adrian Mariappa headed his corner onto the bar.
But Sunderland persisted with their suicide mission and when Titus Bramble needlessly fouled substitute Nick Blackman near the right corner flag, the stage was set for Harte to deliver the free-kick onto the head of Jimmy Kebe, who couldn’t miss from a couple of yards out.
There was an element of Sunderland being their own worst enemies throughout the game though.
During the opening 20 minutes and again for much of the second half, Sunderland were horrifyingly sloppy in possession.
Simple passes were beyond them – summed up by the wayward Alfred N’Diaye with 20 minutes to go when he couldn’t play a bread and butter square ball that would have put James McClean in behind the Reading defence.
For all the Black Cats struggled to keep hold of the ball against Swansea in midweek, Sunderland descended to even greater depths yesterday.
Reading were nothing special, but were far the sharper and brighter of the two sides in a poor quality, if entertaining, encounter.
Kebe’s opening goal was almost in slow motion as the Royals waded through Sunderland’s back-line, while Reading were repeatedly allowed to pepper the visitors’ box with crosses.
But Sunderland were unable to benefit from their own good fortune.
Pogrebnyak’s mindless challenge on John O’Shea to give Craig Gardner the chance from the spot failed to spark a major upturn in Sunderland’s performances.
And even when Reading continued to spurn chances, Sunderland’s levels failed to soar.
But, ironically, Reading’s winner came moments after Sunderland finally began to pose a threat – N’Diaye slashing carelessly into the side netting and then Danny Graham seeing two efforts blocked from inside the six-yard box.
A Graham winner would have provided an element of fairytale, but it would barely have been justified.
The three-game undefeated streak is over and Sunderland can have few complaints.
It would be too dramatic to suggest that the loss thrusts Sunderland back into the relegation scrap, with the buffer between the bottom three still healthy at eight points.
But this was undoubtedly a missed opportunity to take another major step towards Premier League survival and Sunderland will have to continue looking ominously over their shoulders for a few more weeks yet.
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