Chris Young: Graham’s roots are irrelevant
THE BOO boys were in a minority admittedly, but the reception for Danny Graham was hardly that of a warm embrace from a public desperate to see him in red and white.
Graham’s Tyneside affiliations clouded the judgment of the vocal few, yet even the silent majority were tellingly muted.
Perhaps by the time Sunderland head to Reading on Saturday, the welcome will be far more enthusiastic, should the 27-year-old complete his £5million switch to the Stadium of Light – if last night’s reaction hasn’t prompted a change of heart.
But just imagine the reaction on the terraces had Graham poked home a stoppage time winner to win the drabbest of encounters.
Only a stunning challenge from Titus Bramble denied Graham the winner, yet it would have been a bitter twist to his only contribution during a 15-minute cameo from the bench.
If Michu had opted to pick out Graham, rather than drag it back for Nathan Dyer to pull unfathomably wide 10 minutes earlier, there could have been another chance for him to steal the points.
But other than that last-gasp moment from Michu’s knock-down, Graham made a minimal contribution.
Arguably, though, that is the whole reason behind Sunderland’s pursuit of Graham.
Like Steven Fletcher, Graham is an arch-predator; a striker who only really comes to life in the penalty area when he grabs a match-winning goal.
Other than Fletcher, Sunderland have none of those, even though Connor Wickham has made genuine strides this season.
That is why Graham’s roots are irrelevant. If Fletcher gets injured, the Black Cats are put in a real quandary.
The more intriguing question is whether Fletcher and Graham will be used together, should Martin O’Neill’s pursuit of the latter result in success before 11pm tomorrow.
Judging on the powder-puff nature of Sunderland’s attack last night, then it has to be worth a try after Seb Larsson’s inswinging free-kick provided the only effort on target in a desperately flat performance from the hosts.
Don’t bet on it though.
Even if O’Neill adds Graham to his armoury and boasts two clinical frontman worth almost £20m, will the Sunderland boss suddenly surrender the system used almost universally throughout his tenure, just to incorporate a new signing?
There was no doubt that Fletcher was desperately starved of both service and support last night.
But Sunderland’s approach-play revolves around Stephane Sessegnon and it was only when the Benin international was moved into the hole that the Black Cats briefly flickered into life.
For the opening half-hour, O’Neill persisted with the system which worked so well at Wigan – Sessegnon and Adam Johnson in wide roles, with a central midfield trio supporting.
But this was more Bolton than Wigan, as Sunderland’s attack never possessed the same incisiveness which saw them net three times at the DW Stadium.
Alfred N’Diaye was preoccupied with combating the height of Michu and sat deep, rather than meandering forward on those bursts down the channel which were characteristic of his performance against the Latics.
Sunderland simply never got a foothold in those formative early stages and the crowd subsequently grew frustrated as Swansea revelled in keeping possession and the hosts mastered the art of surrendering it.
O’Neill tried alternating Sessegnon and Johnson between the flanks, but even that made a negligible difference.
But in the 32nd minute, first-team coach Steve Walford joined O’Neill on the touchline and the pair directed traffic to move Larsson to the right, as Sessegnon tucked into his favoured role in behind the striker.
There was little immediate difference.
Swansea continued to press the Black Cats, who only succeeded in going backwards as a desperately poor 45 minutes lurched to a stalemate.
But Sessegnon was the catalyst for a notable improvement at the start of the second half.
The former PSG man was at his mercurial best as he twisted and turned down what appeared blind alleys and injected some much-needed tempo into Sunderland’s approach-play.
Sessegnon couldn’t do it all by himself though.
For all the 28-year-old worried the Swansea defence, no one around him looked capable of creating the genuine chance which would elude Sunderland for the entire game and after 20 minutes or so, the Wearsiders reverted to type.
Swansea were a similar story though.
As Graham walmed up on the touchline during the second half, there were barely audible chants of “Danny Graham, we want you to stay” from the hardy couple of hundred who had dared to venture to Wearside from south Wales.
But the sentiments of the Swansea fans were obvious.
On-loan Kaiserslautern striker Itay Schechter, without a domestic goal in the last 18 months, made little impression, other than theatrically going to ground under the outstretched leg of John O’Shea in the opening exchanges.
Like Sunderland with Fletcher, Swansea were relying on Michu to bail them out – a feat the Spaniard almost managed in the third minute of stoppage time by teeing up Graham.
The Gateshead-born frontman couldn’t profit from that cue, as he narrowly avoided the chance to be crowned pantomime villain before even putting pen to paper on a Sunderland contract.
Perhaps it was just as well.
Judging by the reaction last night, there will remain a minority who cannot forgive and forget anyone who dares to cross the no-man’s land between the Tyne and Wear.
The bigotry is only superficial though.
If Graham can find the net to break the tedium in games like last night, then any unnecessary anti-Magpie venom will be instantly banished.
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Weather for Sunderland
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 7 C to 14 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: North