Michael Chopra’s two goals in the final ten minutes are enough to see off Middlesbrough 2-0 at the Stadium of Light.A game that was more frantic than metered, this was a game that took a long time for anything to build. Yes both sides had plenty of chances (per Soccernet, 21 for Sunderland, 18 for Middlesbrough), but not many tested either Craig Gordon or Ross Turnbull. Both midfields did well to spring the attack, but nothing really seemed to matter up front as both sides rushed and wasted countless opportunities.
Craig Gordon was the busier keeper in the first half and pulled off two very good saves. The first coming on nineteen minutes when Alves’s free kick hit the wall and bounced perfectly to Stewart Downing. His near post volley was just parried out by Gordon for a corner to which it was promptly wasted. The second came eighteen minutes later when Afonso Alves got into space, but was unable to pick out a post. Gordon though didn’t see that shot until late and did well to collect.
I think this game turned in Sunderland’s favor in two places. The first coming at the end of the first half when Teemu Tainio had to be replaced by Michael Chopra. Sunderland were lacking imagination and any real bite up front and the forced sub when Tainio injured his shoulder was a much needed shot in the arm. The second came in the sixty-second when Ross Turnbull was unable to collect what seemed to be an easy ball to hold. Cisse was wise to poke it out to Malbranque but it was Malbranque who took too long in shooting. It was these two moments where Sunderland had turned the screws the most.
Turnbull came up trumps in the seventy-first denying Richardson well on a far post effort and just three minutes later Nyron Nosworthy conceded a bad penalty to Middlesbrough. With Sunderland losing the ball in the defensive third, Jeremie Aliadiere was already out of control on the run. Nosworthy should have never given a tug to the shirt because I think either way Aliadiere was going to go down. In my eyes it was a penalty, but was never capitalized on. Stewart Downing has already missed one earlier in the season, but this penalty miss could be candidate for penalty miss of the season. It was never close and gave Sunderland the lifeline they needed.
Getting back to Michael Chopra, he looked a new man today. After taking care of some personal demons, he meant business today. The first goal was great team play by Sunderland to keep possession and the build to the goal came when Chopra fought on the edge of the penalty area to gain possession. He find Richardson to start the 1-2 sequence and that close to goal 1 v 1, Chopra put Sunderland ahead. The second in stoppage time was great vision from Steed Malbranque. Instead of playing hero after the blocked shot of Daryl Murphy, Malbranque got Turnbull to commit before giving Chopra the empty net. The second was a bit harsh, but that is the consequence of a back line giving up on a play.
I was surprised by one thing, how lifeless the crowd seemed to be. There were plenty of empty seats as the announced attendance was just over 38 thousand. They pretty much sat on their hands until about 15 minutes to go when Downing missed from the spot. It was only then that the crowd woke up and the atmosphere lived up to that of a derby. Granted there wasn’t much to cheer for as a Sunderland supporter until then, but not willing the team on was a little surprising to me.
A few other observations:
1) Is it time for Brad Jones to go back between the sticks? If he’s fully fit, shouldn’t he get his spot back?
2) For the debut Djibril Cisse had, he hasn’t looked good since.
3) Credit has to be given to Roy Keane for making two positive substitutions in the sixty-ninth minute bringing on Andy Reid and Daryl Murphy. Speaking of subs in the sixty-ninth, Justin Hoyte has not looked at all effective for Middlesbrough.
Picture thanks to the PA via the BBC.
I’ll be back later with a review of Chelsea against Manchester United.