Zend of the line – Sunderland will miss their Dutch master

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THERE was a stark contrast between the two swansongs at Upton Park.

One was a mooted hum, while the other was a virtuoso power ballad, delivered by an artist who proved he is still very much in tune.

Scott Parker and Bolo Zenden faced off for the final 30 minutes in the East End yesterday, in surely their final outings for their respective clubs.

By far the largest cheer of the afternoon among the wake at Upton Park greeted Parker’s arrival, with the England midfielder’s cameo role creating a brief ripple of intensity among his team-mates.

But this was far from Parker in the form which has seen him win so many friends among the Hammers’ faithful in the national media this season.

Parker barely broke out of a jog, content to give the home supporters a brief moment of cheer rather than further aggravating the Achilles problem which has seen him miss the crunch point of West Ham’s season.

It was a stark contrast to the intensity of Zenden’s display.

The Dutchman has been intent on proving a point after finally being given a chance at the fag end of Sunderland’s season.

The opportunity has been too little, too late for Zenden, who has quietly seethed at his lack of first-team outings and resolved that he won’t face the same restrictive role next season.

But he has certainly showed Steve Bruce what he will lose when the ex-Barcelona winger moves on to pastures new next summer.

Zenden’s second goal in as many away games set the tone for Sunderland’s victory and proved the Black Cats had a midfielder in their ranks all along who could make a late run into the box and find the net.

West Ham never recovered from Zenden’s 17th-minute opener, but it wasn’t just the timing of the header which was noteworthy about the 34-year-old’s display.

Zenden was the one midfielder on show who provided some bite in the centre of the park.

He harassed and stole possession away from the wounded Hammers and provided some drive to a Sunderland side that was too often content to simply keep possession.

Bruce contends that Zenden struggles to play in a midfield quartet, but there was little evidence to back the Sunderland boss’s view, although it admittedly helped that Stephane Sessegnon drops deeper than a conventional second striker.

It will be a tough ask for the Sunderland boss to find someone with Zenden’s knack of slowing the game down or using his head while the others round him lose theirs.

At least though, Bruce has the makings of a strike force for next season.

Significant reinforcements obviously need to be made to Sunderland’s forward line before the new season kicks off on August 13.

Yet Bruce would be far from discouraged if Asamoah Gyan and Sessegnon were his front two on the opening day after a promising indication that the duo can form an effective partnership.

Admittedly, the African pair will have much tougher afternoons.

On his comeback from injury, Gyan couldn’t have wished for a more comfortable ride against a central defensive partnership who opted not to challenge the Ghanaian in the air or subject him to any of the rough stuff.

Similarly, Sessegnon found space for fun – testified by the Benin international picking the ball up on halfway and running a good 20 yards before letting fly for his third goal in Sunderland colours.

But the duo were tellingly on the same wavelength when it came to reading the flicks that characterise each other’s games.

That will renew Bruce’s faith that the building blocks are in place on Wearside, it is just question of getting players fit and suitably boosting the squad following the departure of Zenden and loanees Danny Welbeck, John Mensah and Nedum Onuoha.

Despite the euphoria of finishing above the Magpies and in the top 10 though, you couldn’t help but feel a sense of regret that Zenden will not appear in red and white again.

There aren’t many other 34-year-old’s with that CV who could offer Sunderland so much.