WMS: Sunderland v Chelsea reaction

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MAN Utd, Everton, Spurs and Swansea all left Wearside with three points each last season.

Saturday’s goalless draw with Chelsea means they can also be added to that list of sides, who have FAILED to do so this time around.

That can’t be under-stated.

Any side needs their ground to be a tough place for their opponents and we’ve been seen as a bit of a soft touch in recent seasons.

It’s also been notable that the atmosphere is the healthiest it’s been for some time, with that bond between the team, manager and crowd seemingly strong.

It’s all a good platform for the second half of the season when some of the lower sides visit the SoL.

The performance in Saturday’s draw with Chelsea echoed a couple of those 1-0 victories over Man City in recent years; and had Adam Johnson converted one of his two late chances then we could have forged ourselves a reputation as some sort of specialists against the best sides.

It would have been deserved too. Many observer  would have expected the home side to be the one to lose their grip on the game after continued possession from an excellent Chelsea side.

Yet it was the visitors who probably felt more relieved to hear the full-time whistle as substitutes Jordi Gomez and Jozy Altidore significantly contributed towards the Black Cats getting a tighter grip on the game.

But even before Sunderland started to look the more likely to score, the work rate, concentration levels and discipline of the lads was outstanding. It was a pleasure to watch these players work off-the-ball.

Nothing more can be said about Lee Cattermole’s individual display that hasn’t already been said, and it’s nice that he’s finally starting to get the outside recognition and acknowledgment that we feel has been long overdue.

I could mention each and every one of the players separately and praise them for their efforts against the country’s best side; from Anthony Reveillere’s composed and faultless display to Connor Wickham’s desire and direct running.

But a special mention has to go to two players who haven’t always been fan favourites on Wearside. The clear shape and structure implemented by Gus Poyet has provided a platform for both John O’Shea and Seb Larsson to excel this season.

As recent seasons looked like they’d bring relegation to Sunderland, the mentioned players were very much associated with the failures and struggles of Sunderland as a side.

O’Shea had previously appeared slow and limited but has since adapted into the commanding and intelligent centre-half, I thought we were initially signing from Man Utd.

In fact, slow and limited he still may well be, but he’s found a way to get the best from his own ability and it’s suddenly a shame that he’s the age he is and in the twilight of his career.

Larsson was always unfortunate in that he was a right winger suddenly dropped into the centre of the park in basic 442 formations.

He seemed as bemused as any of us were as to what he was doing there. But he’s continued his good form from the survival run last season into this one, and is thriving at being given a specific role in linking Lee Cattermole’s defensive work to the forward players.

Long may his improvement continue.

From feeling nervous about the trio of Premier League games that faced Sunderland on Saturday, I suddenly feel quietly confident about Wednesday.

The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Gus Poyet. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.