Sunderland 2 Chelsea 4

01 February 2011 10:22
HAVING spent the second half of the transfer window fretting about a lack of strikers, Sunderland boss Steve Bruce might now concede he was concentrating on the wrong part of his team.

On the evidence of tonight's absorbing 4-2 defeat to Chelsea, a defender or two might not have gone amiss last month.

In their first home game without the departed Darren Bent, the Black Cats conceded four goals at the Stadium of Light for the first time since they lost to Bolton in Roy Keane's final game as manager more than two years ago.

Their opponents, who are gradually regaining their form following a mid-season slump, deserve considerable credit for the ambition of their attacking, but a slipshod Sunderland nevertheless contributed to goals from Frank Lampard, Salomon Kalou, John Terry and Nicolas Anelka.

They scored twice themselves, through the unlikely goalscoring axis of Phil Bardsley and Kieran Richardson, but were unable to resist the relentless Chelsea pressure that built throughout the game.

The return of the likes of Michael Turner and Lee Cattermole will help, but while Bent's departure might have hogged the headlines in recent weeks, it is possible the opposite end of the field could cause just as many problems to the Black Cats in the final three months of the season.

Bruce barely even considered signing a defender during January, preferring instead to recuit Sulley Muntari, who watched tonight's game from the stands, and Stephane Sessegnon, who made his debut on the left of a five-man midfield in an attempt to ensure adequate support for lone striker Asamoah Gyan.

Four minutes in, and that support was already arriving from an unexpected quarter. After a season and a half in which it seemed all but impossible for Sunderland's defenders and midfielders to get on the scoresheet, the Black Cats are suddenly scoring goals from all angles. And when Bardsley makes it two goals in four Premier League matches after almost 120 appearances without a success, you know your luck is in.

In fairness to Bardsley, who broke his duck in spectacular fashion at Villa Park, tonight's effort was even better than early December's.

Picking up the ball close to the left touchline, a surprisingly hesitant Chelsea defence dropped off, allowing Bardsley to advance towards the end of the area. He turned inside John Obi Mikel with ease, and hammered a fierce low drive into the far corner of the net beyond Petr Cech's left hand. Leading at such an early juncture, it was important Sunderland dictated the tempo and momentum of the game, just as they had in November's unforgettable 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge.

Instead, they struggled to gain the upper hand in midfield, ceding territory to Lampard and Michael Essien and finding themselves on the back foot as a result.

Still, Craig Gordon had not been troubled when a reckless challenge from Ahmed Elmohamady invited Chelsea back into the game.

The Egyptian climbed all over Ashley Cole as he attempted to prevent the overlapping full-back from reaching a bouncing ball, and a penalty was the inevitable result. A fit-again Lampard made no mistake, adopting his Chelsea, rather than his England, approach from the spot.

Suddenly, the visitors appeared like the Chelsea of old, attacking from all angles, muscling their way through the heart of midfield and rapidly slipping through the gears to turn defence into attack.

It did not take long for them to score their second, but again Sunderland played a pivotal role in their own downfall.

Anelka slipped Kalou through the middle, and with the Black Cats' back four prised open, Gordon opted to come galloping off his line. He got nowhere near Kalou though, and the Ivorian slipped a simple side-footed finish into a gaping net.

Action over Not a bit of it. Three minutes later, and Sunderland were scoring the fourth goal of the game with the clock not even having reached the half-hour mark.

This was the softest strike of the lot, with Richardson, fresh from his Blackpool brace ten days earlier, drilling a 20-yard free-kick beneath a jumping wall of Chelsea defenders. Cech, with his view restricted, had no chance. Richardson, with three goals in two games, has trebled last season's goal tally in less than a fortnight.

Sunderland would still have trailed at the break had Branislav Ivanovic not crashed a close-range effort against the crossbar when it looked easier to score, and the visitors twice went close again in the early stages of the second half.

Nedum Onuoha produced an excellent last-ditch challenge to block Lampard's goalbound shot, before both Kalou and Anelka narrowly failed to stab in Ivanovic's flick at the back post.

When Gordon parried Lampard's low shot shortly after, the Black Cats were riding their luck, and Chelsea spent much of the second half camped in their opponents' half of the field.

The pressure built relentlessly, and Sunderland's resistance crumbled for a third time on the hour mark. Gordon did well to keep out yet another mid-range effort from Lampard, but Terry reacted quickest to drill home a bouncing half-volley.

Kalou became the second visitor to hit the woodwork when his side-footed shot rebounded off both posts midway through the second half, and Chelsea's winning margin was extended in the second minute of stoppage time.

Florent Malouda was allowed to break to the touchline down the left, and Anelka converted the Frenchman's pull back from close range.

Source: Northern_Echo