ROBERTO MANCINI’S claim that Sunderland were “lucky” to emerge victorious against Manchester City on Boxing Day bemused Martin O’Neill, writes Chris Young.
Given the chances Sunderland enjoyed against the champions and the minimal threat City offered in the second half, it seemed yet another of the Italian’s odd suppositions.
But if Sunderland boasted any fortune earlier in the week, then it ran out yesterday.
Spurs were indeed worthy of their victory and if it hadn’t been for another two gravity-defying saves from Simon Mignolet, then the visitors could easily have recorded a win by a wider margin.
But there was still a sense of regret over the scrappy nature of Tottenham’s two goals inside three minutes early in the second half, when Andre Villas-Boas’s side benefited from some luck at a pivotal stage of the contest.
Carlos Cuellar’s inadvertent header couldn’t have arrowed more perfectly beyond Mignolet.
And then Aaron Lennon profited from the most appealing of ricochets off Matt Kilgallon before pouncing with an admittedly precise finish into the bottom corner.
The timing of those goals, so soon after the interval, provided Spurs with the perfect tonic after being hit by that late first-half blow.
John O’Shea’s first goal in red and white sent Sunderland into the break with real buoyancy and suddenly there was a genuine prospect of a third successive Premier League victory.
O’Shea’s goal admittedly came against the run of play, yet, other than Emmanuel Adebayor’s poke which rattled the crossbar, Sunderland’s lead was reward for a disciplined defensive display in what had become an increasingly scrappy encounter.
But it was crucial that Sunderland emerged unscathed from the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
To be hit twice during that spell proved an almighty blow that the Black Cats were unable to recover from.
Yes, Sunderland huffed and puffed plenty during the finale to ensure the outcome remained in the balance until the final whistle.
But the effects of Wednesday’s exertions against Manchester City had clearly taken their toll.
With Spurs maintaining their defensive shape superbly and Hugo Lloris providing that rare sight of a continental goalkeeper dominating his penalty area, Sunderland were unable to create anything clear-cut.
Until O’Neill put all his chips on the table with six wingers and forwards on the field, the Black Cats increasingly resorted to launching it long too often.
Spurs comfortably dealt with that and with Gareth Bale’s searing pace offering such an outlet on the counter-attack, the visitors looked the more likely to add to the scoresheet.
But Sunderland shouldn’t let defeat against a Spurs side playing with plenty of vigour, derail their resurgence of confidence.
Although they didn’t really hurt Spurs before O’Shea’s goal, the way Sunderland kept their composure to maintain possession with short, neat triangles, demonstrated the renewed self-belief which is prevalent among O’Neill’s players.
If Sunderland can maintain that confidence against a horribly inconsistent Liverpool side on Wednesday, then the Wearsiders have every chance of ensuring that the victory against Manchester City is not the only time they take points from one of the big boys this festive season.
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