WE’VE seen a lot of things at Sunderland over the years but I really can’t remember us making as poor a start to a game as we did against West Brom on Saturday.
Two goals down inside five minutes is enough to knock the stuffing out of any side and it’s probably fair to say that a lot of the club’s fans had barely got to their seats or were sitting comfortably in their seats before they were contemplating a 2-0 scoreline in favour of the visitors.
The two goals themselves were disappointing ones to give away – and the first one in particular, Sunderland can have no excuses.
The opening goal was a straightforward free-kick being kicked forward into the box. If Sunderland had defended their 18-yard line, then Albion don’t score.
Instead they allowed themselves to be pushed back to their own six-yard box which meant when the ball came in, James Morrison was able to have a great chance of scoring simply by getting a head to it and deflecting it in.
The second goal was down to bad luck – Craig Gardner’s challenging for a ball and kicking it back into the path of Shane Long. The defence didn’t cover themselves in glory because they were caught flat-footed but how often does winning an attempted 50:50 challenge result in a dream pass to the opposition?
In those circumstances Sunderland could easily have felt the world was against them and crumbled but they didn’t and I think for that, they have to thank one man more than any other: Nicklas Bendtner.
I thought he was absolutely terrific.
I’d felt before the game that he was going to score because he was Sunderland’s best player by a country mile at Norwich and when you’re in that sort of nick as a striker, goals will come.
But I thought his overall performance on Saturday was outstanding. The bald facts will tell you he scored one and created another. But he was about so much more than that – his control, his hold-up play, his ability to switch the point of the attack were all first rate.
And in the Dane, Sunderland might just have the quality of player who can inspire a change in fortunes in the weeks ahead.
Read the rest of the Rowell Report in tonight’s Sunderland Echo.