Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn – O’Neill has Larsson and Vaughan to thank

Posted on December 11, 2011 by


Sunderland vs Blackburn starting line-ups

This was an important victory for Sunderland, who had been slipping rather dangerously under the tutelage of Steve Bruce. O’Neill will be delighted to have started his reign with a rabble-rousing victory, courtesy of the excellent technique of David Vaughan and Sebastian Larsson.

The truth is, Sunderland looked like they were heading for defeat for long periods of this game, despite having the lion’s share of possession, and more shots on goal than their injury-stricken, relegation-threatened opponents. Blackburn’s players patently lack the quality of Sunderland’s, but their makeshift defence was happy to sit deep and clear away countless (seemingly endless) crosses, corners and free-kicks.

The extent to which Sunderland favoured the flanks as a means of attack was rather startling. They attempted, in total, 57 crosses, and of course the strong, tall, powerful centre-back pairing of Christopher Samba and Scott Dann were more than happy to deal with this (making a total of 44 clearances between them). See, for example, the futile attempts of Sebastian Larsson and John O’Shea in particular (the latter seemingly unable to pass the ball forward, let alone find a man in the box):

It was a really, genuinely startling tackling decision (and make no mistake, it was a decision of O’Neill’s – Jack Colback and Stephane Sessegnon regularly found themselves in space in the advanced midfield area, but were shunned in favour of wide options). On Sunderland’s left, they were up against two right-backs (Michel Salgado and Jason Lowe, and then Lowe and Grant Hanley) and struggled to find space to pick a decent cross until the sparky James McLean made an appearance from the substitutes bench. On Sunderland’s right, they had two players (Larsson and O’Shea) more-or-less incapable of beating a man and reaching the byline, so they were reduced to hopeful deep crosses, which Samba and Dann lapped up (with one exception, a terrible mistake by Lowe, which Richardson was unable to capitalise on).

In the middle of the pitch however, Blackburn were relying on erstwhile attacking-midfielders David Dunn and Morten Gamst Pedersen to protect the defence. They didn’t do a bad job, but then they were never really put under the kind of pressure they should’ve been – a mere 22% of Sunderland’s attacks came through the middle of the pitch. When Sessegnon, Colback or Vaughan managed to get hold of the ball and drive directly at Blackburn’s defence, they suddenly looked like they might get some joy. Sadly, it was all-too-rare an occurrence. For most of the second half, Blackburn were content to sit deep and get 10 men behind the ball (41% of the game was played in Blackburn’s half), so O’Neill needed to find a way of stretching them. The two superb, morale-boosting goals do not vindicate or disguise O’Neill’s tactical decisions; but, of course, Sunderland would have taken any win here today, and will not be complaining as they try to reach the safety of mid-table once again.

One important positive for O’Neill to note, though, was the all-round performance of David Vaughan. He seems to offer infinitely more to the team than Lee Cattermole does, who Bruce tended to favour. The ex-Blackpool midfielder’s passing, tackling and (clearly) long-distance-shooting were all excellent this afternoon, and it would be a real surprise if he hadn’t impressed O’Neill enough to keep his place in the side.

As for Blackburn, their attacking approach was very basic (hit Christopher Samba from free-kicks/corners), but they could’ve scored two or three by half-time. Steve Kean will be disappointed to have lost (obviously), but the odds were stacked against his side for most of the game, as injuries heavily limited his options.

Posted in: Football, Tactics