Date: 5 November 2016
So, we get to play the lowest placed team in the league (two points before today), we have home advantage, and we’ve got one more man on the pitch than they (eleven plays ten) for the last 35 minutes of the match – and yet not only do we not win, we don’t get a single point. It doesn’t get any worse than this, does it?
The team news was that Gosling was in for Surman; not a problem – Gosling has played well recently and was my ‘man of the match’ today (even though the sponsors picked Wilshere). Stanislas was back for Wilson; again, that didn’t concern me greatly because Stanislas has put in some great performances lately. The match was inevitably preceded by the minute’s silence (though it seemed somewhat less) to remember those of ‘our’ race who’d died in armed conflicts (which always seems to me a case of kicking racism back in to football!). And then we were off.
We began brightly. Almost too brightly in Arter’s case; he was booked for a tackle within two minutes, so would have to play with caution from then on! Our first scoring chance fell to Ibe, and he fluffed his lines. But then with only ten minutes on the clock we were ahead. A short corner led to a square cross from Smith (on Bournemouth’s right) that found Gosling. 1:0. It was surely only a matter of time before we’d score again? Indeed Stanislas managed to hit the side netting once. But the elusive second goal that would calm our nerves never came. There was a lot of good attacking play; and Gosling’s passing was particularly effective in midfield (though somewhat cancelled out by Ibe’s atrocious distribution in what turned out to be his worst game yet in a Bournemouth shirt – and that’s saying something!). And then – completely against the run of play and in Sunderland’s first real attack of the game – Anichebe went up to the other end (in front of the North Stand) and was virtually unopposed as he slotted the ball home from a tight angle for 1-1.
This was not the half-time score we’d wanted or expected. And it indeed it could have been worse because just before the break Sunderland had the ball in the back of the Bournemouth net for a second time, but were fortunately ruled offside.
Buoyed by the way their first half had ended, Sunderland dominated the start of the second period. But everything was to change again. On the hour mark (and as there would be five minutes time added on at the end of the game this meant a full 35 minutes from the final whistle) the away team was reduced to ten men when Pienaar was sent off for a tackle on Stanislas. This immediately resulted in a surge of confidence for the Cherries, and unleashed a ten minute spell of frenetic activity as we relentlessly attacked Sunderland’s goal. But the nearest we came to actually scoring was when Stanislas hit the woodwork. And Afobe blew at least three chances to restore our lead. There seemed to be at least three reasons for our inability to score: (1) our players’ unwillingness to shoot on sight, always opting for the extra pass; (2) poor finishing when anyone did shoot; and (3) excellent defending by Sunderland’s keeper – Jordan Pickford – who again and again demonstrated why he’s so much a part of the England manager’s plans.
And then, disaster! While Sunderland didn’t threaten much in open play, it was that man Anichebe again who got close enough to be on the receiving end of a trip by Smith, which immediately led the referee to say “penalty”. And up strode former Bournemouth favourite Defoe to convert the penalty in front of the South Stand. Despite much waving and gesturing from fans behind the goal, Defoe’s ability to score from the spot never looked in any doubt. 1:2! No reaction from the home fans at this point, but our everlasting respect for Jermain was amply demonstrated (by those home fans who’d remained that long!) four minutes into injury time when he was subbed and received a standing ovation from all four sides of the ground. We had nothing else to cheer about, but typical ‘gallows humour’ was evident amongst Sunderland fans, heading away from the ground and singing proudly about the fact that they were now on five points!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (6), Francis (6), S Cook (6), Daniels (6);
Gosling (8), Arter (6);
Stanislas (7), Wilshere (7), Ibe (3);
A Smith, Francis, S Cook, Daniels;
King, Afobe, Fraser;