A superb second half performance, with Van der Vaart, Walker and Parker all prominent, ensured victory and consigned its evil twin, a very frustrating first half, to memory. We seemed to spend as much time battling with ourselves as with a limited Sunderland side during the first forty five minutes as the tactical changes brought about by coping with the loss of Bale from the start and Lennon from twenty odd minutes in led to us looking narrow in attack and suspect in midfield. In front of a subdued WHL crowd we created few chances before the break though Pavlyuchenko, Van der Vaart and Sandro would all have tested Westwood if they’d managed cleaner contacts.
At the other end, having coped without breaking sweat we became strangely vulnerable when Lennon went off with Larsson going close and Gallas and Walker doing superbly to avoid connecting with a low cross that had bypassed Friedel and been just missed by a hurtling Richardson. The second half was a different affair as the single goal we managed didn’t come anywhere reflecting our dominance. Pavlyuchenko scored after in general standing out due to his underwhelming touch and technique rather than as a goal threat. Modric broke and fed VdV who quickly spotted Pav’s run and fed him the ball. The forgotten man does what he does every now and then and looked a polished and accomplished striker as he confidently arrowed a low drive across the keeper and into the bottom right hand corner.
His goal celebration consisted of two thumbs pointing towards the name on the back of his shirt, a gesture he strangely failed to repeat later in the match as he dithered rather than shot when another clear opportunity arose. To be fair he wasn’t the only one who failed to put the crowd out of their misery when given the chance as Adebayor, Van der Vaart, Benny and most culpably Modric were all thwarted by the keeper or their own inaccuracy.
Thankfully these misses did not matter as we bagged another important three points despite the injuries and tactical reshuffle. The second half performance was very impressive. We upped the tempo and put the away team under what I heard one Sunderland fan refer to afterwards as “relentless pressure”. Walker and Assou-Ekotto carried the attack down the wings in the absence of the speedsters in front of them, Gallas and King were athletic, prescient, decisive and dominant and Parker and Sandro worked tirelessly and with discipline in midfield.
Up front Adebayor ran the full width of the line in an effort to make up for the narrowness elsewhere but it was Van der Vaart who stole the show with a sumptuous display of skill and technique. In particular two cross field passes to Assou-Ekotto were world class in their conception and execution whilst one trick to pass possession on to Modric brought delighted cheers from the crowd.
At half time it was a victory that looked some way off as we struggled with the enforced changes. Much of the dazzling effervescence we’ve become used to was missing and we were playing an uncertain and ugly type of football. Beauty though hides in the strangest of places and today it was concealed in Super Pavlyuchenko’s right boot.
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