Football Echo Verdict: Opportunity missed for festive kick-start

Sunderland's Lee Cattermole battles West Ham's Joe Cole (left)

Sunderland's Lee Cattermole battles West Ham's Joe Cole (left)

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AFTER a season of repeated blows to the unmentionables, it was almost a blessing that Sunderland at least avoided a sucker-punch.

Given the majority of possession and the bulk of chances which Sunderland enjoyed, it would have been typical for West Ham to grab a winner yesterday.

A point at least ensures it is not “game-over” in the survival battle and injects a degree of positivity into players who were left feeling glum after the defeat against Tottenham last weekend.

But this was undoubtedly an opportunity missed.

Without the big-hitting trio of Kevin Nolan, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll, West Ham offered a meagre threat going forwards, other than from set pieces.

But a failure to find the back of the net on the road – again – cost Gus Poyet’s side the chance to really gain some ground on the gaggle of teams above them.

The search for a first away goal since August continues. That’s an unfathomably long time to wait for the thousands who fortnightly travel the length and breadth of the country.

In the first half particularly, Sunderland should have had their noses in front after a bright performance, boasting no hint of nerves.

Other than a five-minute spell when Guy Demel saw a goal chalked off for the visitors, Sunderland were the far livelier of the two sides.

Using Ki Sung-Yueng in a more advanced role to incorporate the return of Lee Cattermole into the starting XI, worked effectively.

Ki was bright going forwards, particularly down the left flank, and looked to create, rather than just spreading the play, as he has done so well in the deeper position.

The other two changes to the starting XI – recalls for Fabio Borini and Emanuele Giaccherini – also proved to be an effective piece of tinkering.

The Italian pair buzzed around lone striker Jozy Altidore, with Giaccherini given licence to float inside into the hole behind the American.

But Sunderland couldn’t get the goal which their movement and confident passing deserved.

Altidore should have scored, Borini have should made more of the striker’s block on James Collins’s free-kick, while fortune deserted both Cattermole and Phil Bardsley after being denied by goalkeeper and woodwork respectively.

Sunderland had eight corners in the first half compared to West Ham’s one, and enjoyed 60 per cent of the possession.

It was a reflective statistic.

In the opening skirmishes after the break, Sunderland picked up where they had left off and just needed the bounce of the ball to go their way or a long-range effort to fly in the corner.

It didn’t and as the game wore on, it became increasingly scrappy, with fatigue beginning to set in.

Ki was denied by a superb save from Jussi Jaaskelainen, yet both sides lacked the finesse to grab a winner, with Ravel Morrison unable to translate his twinkle-toes into anything tangible.

A point prompt a lack of conclusions. On one side it’s an extra one on Sunderland’s tally, yet on the other, they could easily have been just two points adrift.

In their current position, anything less than victory has to be considered a blow.

Twitter @youngsunecho

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