I THINK the first half against Chelsea this week was pretty much the best 45 minutes football I’ve seen Sunderland involved in at the Stadium of Light all season.
It was an exceptional contest.
Chelsea were in great form, but they needed to be because Sunderland had a real go at them and it was an exciting and open a game as you could wish to see, with the Black Cats giving as good as they got.
I really enjoyed it.
And at half-time, with the scoreline 2-2, I was hoping for more of the same in the second half.
We didn’t get it.
Chelsea were just too good on the night and it became an increasingly one-sided affair.
But there’s no shame in that.
You’re talking about opposition who are the current Premier League champions and one of the favourites to win the Champions League.
I know that Sunderland have improved a lot in recent times. They’re a very good side, but they’re not as good as Chelsea.
For young players like Jordan Henderson, Ahmed Elmohamady and Nedum Onuoha, it would have been an education.
All three of them felt the heat on the night and I think the game demonstrated how far they’ve got to go.
But I also hope it reminded everyone that, despite such a successful season, we are talking about a lot of young players in the Sunderland side, players who are just starting to establish themselves in the Premier League.
And rather than criticising them for not matching up against the Premier League champions, we should acknowledge the fact that all three have played big parts in getting Sunderland up to sixth this season.
They are still very much at the learning stage of their careers and they will have learned a lot from going up against a Chelsea side in scintillating form.
STEPHANE SESSEGNON made his debut on Tuesday and I liked what I saw.
He showed some lovely touches, he wasn’t rushed, he can pick out a pass and he’s got the pace you need to be effective in the Premier League.
I’m fully aware he wouldn’t have been at his best.
I don’t think he’s played properly in about six weeks, he was new to the Premier League, new to his team and he was up against one of Europe’s top sides.
But already I’ve seen enough to realise that he’s quality and I think he’s going to be some player when he gets fully adjusted to his move to England.
I’m really impressed at the sort of players Sunderland are starting to recruit now.
Sessegnon looks the real deal and we know Sulley Muntari is quality for the impact he had on Portsmouth when they were riding high, were in the top half of the Premier League and winning the FA Cup.
It says a lot that Sunderland are able to attract a Champions League player, like Sessegnon, and a player who has actually won the Champions League, in Muntari.
The club wouldn’t have been able to do that just a couple of seasons ago and it’s a sign of Sunderland’s progress as a club that we’ll have two top drawer players like these in the squad.
For more of Gary Rowell’s views, see today’s Echo.