Sunderland 1 Everton 1
Sunderland 1 Everton 1 SUNDERLAND'S fortunes still remain like that of Bob Cratchit's prior to Ebenezer Scrooge's epiphany in A Christmas Carol anxious, uncertain and full of foreboding following yet another tentative and impoverished performance. The Wearsiders extended their winless streak to six, and one victory in 11, following Saturday's tense, fraught and hard-fought draw at the Stadium of Light. With injuries and suspensions blighting the team's spine, it looks as if the club's prospects are about to get bleaker before the end of the festive period. Sunderland manager Steve Bruce takes his side to Blackburn today with something of a defensive dilemma. He is already without the suspended Michael Turner, Anton Ferdinand (ankle) and goalkeeper Craig Gordon (wrist), but will also have to make do without John Mensah, who limped out of the contest with the Toffees with a hamstring injury. The Black Cats will then miss the Ghana international for the rest of January when he flies off to the Africa Cup of Nations. Kieran Richardson (calf) and Lee Cattermole (hamstring) have further added to the manager's woes, with striker Kenwyne Jones completing the missing line through the spine of the team when he reported a calf problem. Sunderland's defensive conundrum is clearly a problem Bruce is well aware of, and trying to address. But there is little he can do at the moment with injury and suspension blighting his progress. We just can't find a settled back four, lamented Bruce. I've changed it far too often. Any manager will tell you that if there's any position you want to be settled then it's there. Against David Moyes' injury- hit outfit Mensah and Paulo Da Silva were paired together for the first time since the 1-0 victory over Arsenal. And while Everton striker Louis Saha did cause a few problems for the defensive duo, overall they coped reasonably well, if somewhat unconventionally at times. Their cause was made all the more difficult when the hosts opted to defend deep and try and protect the lead Darren Bent's 11th goal of the campaign gave them after 18 minutes, when powering home Jones' delicious cross from the right. It was probably the best goal of the day, said a disappointed Bruce, who is weighing up a move for unsettled Manchester City striker Craig Bellamy next week. It was a wonderful goal. We're just disappointed we haven't been able to hang on to the lead. That would have given everyone a huge lift. It's not to be so we have to go back to the drawing board again on Monday. At times the contest resembled that of two drunks swapping punches in a car park, with neither really landing a decisive blow. It would be fair to say, however, that Everton did enjoy the better of the exchanges, or possession. Returning skipper Lorik Cana gave his most disciplined performance of the season for Sunderland. Andy Reid was always dangerous in possession, while Jones and Bent were more on the same wavelength than at any other time this term. Yet despite these positives Sunderland could not close the game out. For long periods they were outplayed by their struggling counterparts, who levelled when Tony Hibbert's cross from the right fell favourably for Marounane Fellaini to smash home from close range six minutes from time. Bruce refused to criticise his out-of-sorts side. While recognising they are not hitting the heights they achieved earlier this term, he backed his team to turn around their fortunes and handle increasing supporters' expectations. There was a huge crowd, a magnificent crowd but we have to handle the demand that crowd puts on you, said the former Manchester United defender of the club's largest attendance of the season. When you've got a crowd like that you've got to know your jobs and do your jobs and that's what big players do. We've got to try and improve on that. You have to roll your sleeves up and get through it. And I'm convinced we will. I've seen enough in the last three games that's for sure: Portsmouth, Manchester City last week, and Everton. There were a few boos (at the end) and I understand that because that is the expectation. They are expecting us to beat the likes of Everton at home. When Sunderland players learn to handle the fans' pressure of expectation they will be able to exorcise the Ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and change the Ghost of Christmas of Yet to Come. Match facts Goals: 1-0: Bent (18, headed powerfully past Tim Howard from Kenwyne Jones' superb cross from the right) 1-1: Fellaini (84, Hibbert's cross falls favourably for the Belgium international and he smashes home from eight yards) Bookings: Mensah (37, foul), Cahill (41, foul), Saha (72, foul), Bilyaletdinov (90, foul) Referee: Martin Atkinson (Leeds) - A picture of steadiness. Nothing too controversial to cloud his afternoon 7 Attendance: 46,990 Entertainment: SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): 6 Fulop: No real saves to make, but handling excellent throughout 6 Bardsley: Yet another solid outing. Nothing flash, he just does his job with a minimum of fuss 7 Mensah: Some of the most unconventional defending you are ever likely to witness but managed to get away with it 5 Da Silva: Found Saha a handful particularly in the first half 6 McCartney: Solid in defence and a good outlet for the side when hitting on the break. 5 Malbranque: Not as eye catching as in his pomp but still effective in keeping possession and building an attack 6 Henderson: Not at his creative best but put in a good shift for the cause 7 Cana: Such a big player for the Black Cats breaking up play and inspiring his side forward 7 Reid: Not allowed as much time and space as normal but his cultured left foot still caused all sorts of problems 7 Jones: Much improved from recent weeks. Creative, strong and was a complete nuisance all game 7 Bent: Superbly taken goal Subs Zenden (for Malbranque 58): Fans will see a better player when fully fit 5 Nosworthy (for Mensah 70) At times you think he has his boots on the wrong way but made some hearty stops and clearances 5 (not used): Carson, Murphy, Healy, Campbell, Meyler, EVERTON (4-5-1): Howard 6; Hibbert 7, Neill 6, Heitinga 6, Baines 7, Bilyaletdinov 6, Osman 6 (Yakubu, 70, 4), Cahill 6, FELLAINI 7, Pienaar 7; Saha 6 (Vaughan, 85) Subs: Nash, Neville, Coleman, Duffy Baxter MAN OF THE MATCH LORIK CANA arguably his most disciplined performance of the season.
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