Blackpool v Sunderland: Chris Young’s verdict

Asamoah Gyan
Asamoah Gyan
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PERHAPS there was a message behind Asamoah Gyan’s decision to strip down to his underwear in front of the travelling hordes at the final whistle.

Darren Bent’s defection to Aston Villa left Steve Bruce’s attacking options horrifyingly exposed, with Gyan nakedly alone in carrying the burden of Sunderland’s European ambitions.

It shouldn’t have been forgotten though that Bent’s contribution to Sunderland’s cause over the previous two months had been minimal and Bruce’s men had not done too shabbily.

All that Bent’s absence achieved was to spark one of Sunderland’s most fluent displays in weeks and hand the gleeful Black Cats fans the chance to chant about who needed the striker – or some words to that effect.

Bruce had next to no options with how to replace Bent in his starting XI.

Bolo Zenden was the only viable player available to come into the team, with either Kieran Richardson or Steed Malbranque deployed in the hole behind Gyan.

Richardson got the nod in the role where he has always wanted to play and couldn’t have made a better point to his manager that Sunderland may be a more effective unit with a sole striker.

Blackpool couldn’t deal with the 26-year-old during a first half where Sunderland were slick and sharp despite being reliant on three superb saves from Craig Gordon to deny the Seasiders.

Richardson played as a genuine attacking midfielder rather than sitting in a five and Blackpool were simply unable to track him in their frighteningly open system.

He persistently ran at full pelt from deep to get beyond Gyan – a ploy which resulted in two first-half goals for a player who had previously drawn a blank for the campaign.

The brace understandably gave Richardson a huge boost and his work-rate and pace continued to plague Blackpool after the break, only for Sunderland to waste their promising counter-attacks.

Richardson was helped by having Gyan as a foil, even if the Ghanaian didn’t have his shooting boots on.

Gyan’s best form for his country has come as a lone striker and he looked a much happier player without a strike partner like Bent getting in his way.

He was light enough on his feet to avoid the muscle of Blackpool’s centre-halves and ensured Sunderland didn’t lose possession cheaply in the final third.

Gyan was well aware of what Richardson was doing too.

The immaculate first touch and well-weighted pass for Richardson’s opener was superb and they continued to link-up slickly – Gyan chesting down Nedum Onuoha’s ball forward midway through the first half into the path of Richardson who volleyed over the top.

Richardson was safe in the knowledge that he had licence to get forward, though, with Sunderland’s midfield quartet solidly resolute.

Jordan Henderson and Zenden, in the middle of the park, were on their toes to pounce on loose balls and break up Blackpool’s play.

Other than a five-minute spell in the first half when Gordon was twice required to provide the spectacular, Sunderland were swift to close down the much-coveted Charlie Adam.

The midfielder thrives in being given room in a quarterback role to switch the play to the flanks with long, raking passes.

When it works, Adam looks a class act.

But when Bruce’s side sat a touch deeper in the second half and slowed the game down, Adam became desperate.

Some of his short passing was sloppy, while his crossfield passes were too often intercepted to set Sunderland away on the counter.

It didn’t help that he was unable to make the most of the pace of Sunderland nemesis DJ Campbell over the top with the striker ruled out through illness.

At least Ian Holloway had other options at his disposal, though. Bruce didn’t, which makes a second successive away win all the more laudable.