Blackpool 1 Sunderland 2
Blackpool 1 Sunderland 2 WHETHER it was the derogatory chants being belted out by the away fans or the more diplomatic way Asamoah Gyan reflected on the situation, the message was clear at Bloomfield Road: Sunderland are keen to prove there's life after Darren Bent. The first match of the post- Bent era was always going to be a test of how the team-mates he left behind would perform in his absence and how the manager, Steve Bruce, would go about making sure he was not missed. The outcome Bruce turned Kieran Richardson in to a second striker behind Gyan, a role he has harboured hopes of playing since moving from Manchester United three-and-a-half years ago. And he reverted to the lone striker system that he would actually have preferred to play had he not had a pair of forwards with a combined outlay of £26m within his ranks. Blackpool might have caused enough problems to suggest there are still things for Bruce to address, but given the circumstances Sunderland's first top-flight visit to Bloomfield Road in 43 years was an absolute success. Richardson's first half double, the first of which was laid on for him by Gyan, sparked unsavoury outbursts from the supporters about Bent just five days after he demanded a record-breaking £24m move to Aston Villa. But while the England striker might have started his career at Villa Park by netting the winner against Manchester City, the players he left behind had already successfully gone about taking another step towards finishing in the top six. Darren did so much for this club and I respect him because he's a great finisher, said Gyan, who only spent little more than four months with Bent. Now that he's left we have to prove we have the players here who can cope. We have to demonstrate we are capable of winning in the Premier League and we have started well. It's been a difficult week but the focus was there. It was a surprise, a huge surprise, there was no sign of Darren leaving, but it's one of those things and that's football. In football you don't know what's going to happen. Darren made a decision and we respect that. I don't blame him it's one of those things and we move one. With Sunderland claiming three points in their first match following their star striker's departure, perhaps the one thing that would have made it a perfect afternoon would have been a goal from the man he was never able to comfortably link up with. Gyan and Bent rarely looked capable of becoming a pairing during their four months together, now the Ghanaian accepts there is even more pressure on his shoulders. I play for the team, I make sure the team wins. I don't worry about scoring I don't want to score and lose. What matters for me is that we win games, he said. I had an assist and I was happy with that. That is why it's a team game, the team has to play together we just have to avoid losing, it doesn't matter who scores. It's obvious that more people will look at me now because I'm the only fit striker. All the strikers are injured and we've lost a great man. But since I arrived I've told the fans what I'm capable of and I don't doubt my quality. With Danny Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell sidelined through injury, Bruce was forced to gamble after Bent's exit. With no new arrival before the trip to Blackpool, Richardson's endeavour found the jackpot in the town of the slot machine. He has been handed occasional opportunities in the attacking midfield role under Roy Keane and Bruce, but never has he delivered like he did underneath Blackpool Tower. For the first time since his brace sealed victory over Portsmouth in January 2008, the 26-year-old scored twice in a match to secure maximum points for the Black Cats. His first goal of the season arrived when Nedum Onuoha's headed clearance fell to Gyan. The African's slide rule pass was perfectly weighted for Richardson to run on to and slot beyond goalkeeper Richard Kingson inside quarter of an hour. He celebrated by holding aloft his shinguard with the words God's Child' printed on. His second arrived courtesy of Steed Malbranque just 11 minutes later. Malbranque, after Gyan had chased down Bolo Zenden's long clearance, rolled behind the Seasiders' defence and Richardson struck low inside Kingson's near post. It might not have been the best of goalkeeping, although the same could not be said of Craig Gordon at the opposite end. Blackpool had their chances to be in front at halftime but the Scotland international was equal to everything. After denying Gary Taylor- Fletcher with a fortunate save and then getting down low to thwart a clean through Luke Varney, Gordon made stunning, one handed saves to deny Charlie Adam twice. Adam, the subject of offers from Liverpool, Aston Villa and Birmingham, was the architect of all of Blackpool's moves, but they were unable to break through a well-organised Sunderland back five. There were also resolute and energetic displays from Zenden and Jordan Henderson in the central midfield roles, which allowed Ahmed Elmohamady and Malbranque to join the attacks with Richardson and Gyan on the counter. When Blackpool did eventually find the breakthrough, Sunderland had every right to question referee Lee Mason's decision to award a penalty when David Vaughan tumbled in the area before running in to Onuoha. Adam slotted in the penalty five minutes from time with precision and in to Gordon's bottom right corner, paving the way for late nerves among the away supporters and Bruce. They need not have worried. Sunderland held firm, Bruce was understandably relieved as his sixth-placed team increased the gap to seventh-placed Newcastle to seven points. It's obvious the manager felt bad after Darren's move and before the game he tried to make sure we forgot about it, said Gyan, who stripped to his underpants after the final whistle and threw his shorts to the fans. We are all happy and I think you could tell that by the celebrations at the end. I used to do that all the time in Italy. I'm not naked, I'm not doing anything wrong, 100m runners go with less. I don't think it's a big deal, I just want the fans to be happy and maybe it will continue. Gyan's closing reference to Italy was fitting, at this rate Sunderland could be heading there in European competition next year even without Bent. Match facts ] Goals: 0-1: Richardson (15, slotted beyond Kingson after fine pass from Gyan) 0-2: Richardson (36, struck Malbranque's pass inside Kingson's near post first time) 1-2: Adam pen (86, found the bottom right of Gordon's net with precision) Bookings: Adam (34, foul) Referee: Lee Mason (Stockport) awarded a soft penalty to Blackpool, but otherwise pretty consistent 5 Attendance: 16, 089 Entertainment: *** BLACKPOOL (4-3-3): Kingson 4 (Rachubka 56, 5); Eardley 4, Cathcart 5, Evatt 6, Crainey 3 (Ormerod 46, 5); Vaughan 7, ADAM 8, Grandin 6 (Harewood 62, 5); Phillips 6, Taylor- Fletcher 6, Varney 7. Subs (not used): Southern, Baptiste, Euell, Sylvestre. SUNDERLAND (4-4-1-1): 8 GORDON: Made three fantastic saves in the first half to deny Adam and Varney; 8 Onuoha: Continued his impressive season with a competent display, which included a part in the first goal 7 Bramble: Has performed better but he was still solid enough to keep the Seasiders at bay 6 Ferdinand: After a shaky start that could have cost Sunderland, he got better as the minutes ticked by 6 Bardsley: Mainly solid again at the back even if he never reached the high standards he has often set this season; 7 Elmohamady: Had a bright first half that included a number of runs and crosses down the right 7 Henderson: Looked more comfortable on the ball than he did against Newcastle and full of energy 7 Zenden: Is well suited to the central defensive role the lone striker system hands him; 7 Malbranque: Had an influence on proceedings and created the second for Richardson; 8 Richardson: Took his chance to play further forward with two clinical strikes Bent would have been proud of; 7 Gyan: Laid on the opener for Richardson and led the line well without threatening the Blackpool goal Subs: Colback (for Bardsley 62): Pushed forward from the left when he was introduced 5 Riveros (for Malbranque 80) (not used): Mignolet (gk), Angeleri, Da Silva, Reid, Mensah MAN OF THE MATCH CRAIG Gordon made three stunning saves in the first half to help Sunderland gain a first half advantage.
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