Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sunderland v Swansea City. Match preview.


The North East is famous for many things, and the down to earth culture of the region has a familiarity for us Swans in terms of the life led over recent years.

In fact, since the long gone days of full employment, both regions have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous and lazy Metropolitan disregard, both in real life and the Fantasyland that is Premier League football.

The similarities are manifest - from the run down and ignored loss of manufacturing industry, to the oft-repeated bad mouthing of the respective football teams representing our proud and similar areas. So, what's new there? Not much, I suggest.

Whilst it's fair to categorize City's history in football terms as being a generally lower League existence, it's just wrong to forget that Sunderland FC were once known as "the Bank of England Club".

And whilst Swansea was once "Copperopolis", our opponents were feted for their maritime status, and.... "Sunderland was once dubbed 'the largest shipbuilding town in the world', and employed a wide variety of shipyard workers...."

The point of this brief wander down History's paths isn't to elicit any thing other than a respective admiration for each other's achievements over the years. There is a great deal of pride, justifiable, in each of the regions, and it's no bad thing to approach this fixture with a touch of humility, lest both we, and they, start to believe the hype attached to our recent, decent results.

Following our besting of a very good Arsenal side last Sunday, BR has been sure to remind us all not to get carried away too far too soon, and we fans and our playing squad will need to keep in mind Sunderland's admirable progression since that cute appointment of Martin O'Neill to replace the discarded Steve Bruce, and the consequent upturn in their results.

MoN has now been in charge for 8 games, and they went W4 D1 L3, the defeats being Away at Chelsea and Tottenham (both 1-0's) and a 2-1 loss at Wolves in his first game. The wins include a hugely impressive 1-0 last-gasper at Home to Man City, where Dong-won Ji's 94th minute winner sent the raucous fans into delirium.

MoN has always had a reputation of being an excellent man manager and motivator, and his "kicks every ball" animated touchline antics are always worth a watch on their own merit, but it's obvious that his new era is suiting both fans and players (not to mention Ownership), with a noticeable uplift not only in results, but in a concomitant rise in atmosphere at the occasionally daunting Stadium of Light.

Immediately picked up and praised by the discerning fans, his use of the whole squad, including players seemingly frozen out under Bruce, has immediately lifted the spirit and morale of the Club. Thus, we are facing a dangerous and revitalized opponent, a squad packed with talent, experience and plenty of PL nous.

They have 3 quality GK's in Simon Mignolet, Craig Gordon and Kieran Westwood. Gordon, the Scottish International, was signed from Hearts for £9m in 2007 but suffered a knee injury pre-season that's still keeping him out, and his first choice status is no longer guaranteed. Kieran Westwood is the ex-Coventry shot stopper who has held us at bay for his previous club and came as a free agent signing this year. Hugely experienced, a fine custodian.

Currently the No1 is Simon Mignolet, a young Belgian International considered one of that country's top talents. He has vied with Gordon for the No1 spot, and has played of late with a face-mask, protecting a broken cheek bone, earning the Manager's respect and trust.

Defenders at FB, and the first 2 ex-Man Utd personnel, are Phil Bardsley, the marauding RB with a cracking shot, and on the LB side Kieran Richardson, the multi-talented but wayward sometime MF'er or Forward. He can't help being the cousin of the ex-BB gob-artist Charlie (remember her?).

Both go forward well but the lack of FB cover has seen MF'ers used instead when either is injured.

CB's are chosen from John O'Shea and Wes Brown, the vastly experienced ex Man Utd pair who have a wealth of PL games, along with Michael Turner, once of Hull City and Titus Bramble,(ex Newcastle, Wigan etc), currently ensconced in an alleged off field assault charge. All are strong in the air and physically robust.

Cover is provided by Louis Lang and John Egan, two Academy graduates. Matthew Kilgallon, ex-Leeds, has been re-integrated of late, and he's shown that his is a talent that remains, despite a rocky period.

There is real depth in MF, with players of differing, complementary talent.

First to highlight is Seb Larsson, the free kick specialist who is as good a player in real life as his many Fantasy Football enthusiasts make out. Part of last year's Birmingham City firesale, he, along with Craig Gardener, (who recently showed his FK prowess too at Wigan's expense in the 4-1 away win), is not afraid to shoot.

Both generally play on the right, where they also have the option of Ahmed Elmohamady, the twisting Egyptian International winger. Very tricky, very skillful.

On the left side, MoN has gone of late with Jack Colback, a wonderfully talented red-haired technical grafter, a Youth team graduate whose value was recognized immediately by MoN with a new long term contract, and James McLean, a goalscoring winger from Derry City who had been scoring for fun in the Reserves, and has continued in the same vein since being introduced by O'Neil to first team action. He is good in the air, too.

Centrally in MF we will get to see no doubt, and feel also, the crunching Lee Cattermole. Building some physical notoriety with the card-issuing fraternity (Refs), he does like to make a tackle, some would say, or "leave a foot in". I couldn't possibly comment, for fear of litigation.

His graft is complemented by the guile of Wales' own David Vaughn, and his passing skills have been utilized more by O'Neill than was the case with Bruce. They also have available Jordan Cook, an Academy grad, and David Meyler, ex Cork City. Cook is ostensibly a winger, whilst Meyler is more of a worker-bee type.

Just forward, sometimes as a Striker, sometimes as a Playmaker, we'll see the intriguing Stephane Sessegnon. A very talented dribbler, with a work ethic to match his skillset, he was a £6m buy from PSG. The Benin forward was a star at the African Cup of Nations both in 2008 and 2010 and went on to have great success in Ligue1 with both Le Mans and PSG as he moved upward. An import last season, he is building a growing reputation as a dangerous opponent and is a local fans favourite, with good reason.

Up front they are not short of choice either.

The ultimately self-confident Nicklas Bendtner, on a season long loan from Arsenal, we have seen veer from the sublime to the ridiculous. Equally capable of fighting with his own team mates or scoring a "worldy", as Merse would have it, his Danish Zillionaire ex-Girl friend, a Royal Family member, is no doubt as well treated as his new flickering-flame. Either would be sure to light up the Stadium when watching him. He has, don't forget, a lot of International caps with Denmark. Never a dull moment.

Signed from Ipswich last year for a reported £10m, Conor Wickham, the 18yr old Englishman, has been capped at every age group, and his reputation as one of English football's best young talents meant he was coveted by Liverpool and others before making his move to the North East. He made his debut for Ipswich as a 16yr old, and although he is still growing into his undoubted talent, seems to be settling into this harsh division remarkably well for one so young.

The other 4 front men in the first team squad are Frazer Campbell, Dong-won Ji, Ryan Noble and Oumare Tounkara. Campbell, ex Man Utd again (and a successful loanee at Hull) was Steve Bruce's first signing for the Wearsiders, but after a horrific 2010/11, where he missed almost a full season due to a knee injury, he has yet to reintegrate fully.

Ji, a South Korean international, will be forever feted for scoring that remarkable late winner v Citeh when the Stadium rocked. Striker Ryan Noble is a product of the club's Academy and was the top scorer for their Reserves last year, and is now at Derby on loan. Tounkara is a former triallist from Sedan in Ligue2, and has yet to make an impact.

All in all, a squad with depth, if a little unbalanced, which is something that MoN will seek to remedy over his tenure. England's once "Bank of England" club is not short of a few bob.

Ellis Short, their American supremo (and Chairman since taking over from the popular Niall Quinn- still employed as an executive) - has shown in the past that he's prepared to lay out big money in the lavish modern style.

He will, no doubt, continue to so do.

Whatever, we can expect a physically imposing, raucously supported challenge, at a ground where the wind whips in from the North Sea.

Not, I would suggest, a game where BR will want to start with a side dissimilar to the one that started the thrilling win against Arsenal. The languid skills of the recently joined Josh McEachran may be kept for either a more suitable Home fixture or a Bench role this week.

Our defence as we've said before is a stable, reliable unit, and again I'd be majorly surprised to see any change there. The debate, this week as last, will centre on the middle 3.

Having started with the physicality of Kemy Agustien allied to the ball retention of Leon Britton and the creative pressing of Joe Allen, BR switched at half time to the Playmaking creativity of Gylfi Sigurdsson as a direct replacement for our Dutch bruiser. Dare I suggest an as-we-were again for this week.

Up front, both wingers were effective and the indefatigable Danny Graham is playing so well it's hard to rotate even.

You'll guess, from what I've said, that my vote's for a repeat, for what it's worth.

I shall leave any further speculation on our make-up to all who contribute to the Club's GB's and MB's.

It's always fascinating to see how we all put the side together but we can at least all be assured that in Brendan and his team we will have total commitment from our beloved Swans.

It only remains to say, the best of luck and.....

Onward, Swansea City.

Very decent article/interview with SCFC2's own Jim White on one of the best Sunderland AFC fansites, Colin Randall's .Recommended.

1 comment:

Birflatt Boy said...

Really good article. I enjoyed the comparison between the two cities which was well observed.

I had to laugh when you described Elmo as "tricky." That's not a word that has been used in connection with him very much by our fans, with whom he is not popular. It should be a good game tomorrow. I've thoroughly enjoyed watching your team this season, as well as last. Your manager is doing good things and the team works hard, but plays football in what I think is the right way.

We will win tomorrow but my best wishes are with you for the rest of the season. I've found myself cheering you on against everybody else you've played.