A blood-and-thunder game in keeping with the tradition of fierce rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle ended honours even after a tumultuous encounter at the Sports Direct Arena. Two red cards, two penalties, a managerial spat and a mêlée which threatened to spill into the stands at one point. Yes, it was everything Tyne/Wear is about.
On reflection both managers will not be overly displeased by a share of the points. Martin O’ Neill will reflect that his side performed doggedly with ten men for the final half hour, and if there is frustration at the failure to hold out for three points, it will be tempered by the relief that he didn’t suffer a defeat in his first Tyne/Wear derby.
Alan Pardew will rue Demba Ba’s missed penalty but will be relieved at having salvaged something from the game. As highlighted here by the excellent Secret Footballer, for many of those involved, the most vital aspect of a game of this magnitude is avoiding defeat.
The stakes can scarcely be higher for the players in such a frenzied atmosphere, and as a result it is reasonable that the performance level of many will dip. As such, the thrust of the game often becomes more important than tactics or technical ability. Managers preach about playing the game instead of the occasion, but in an atmosphere like Sunday’s, those instructions can become almost impossible. The actions of the two managers on Sunday can scarcely have helped the situation.
After the dust has settled and the bruises are counted, there remain some salient issues that need addressing by the Sunderland manager. O’ Neill will have been furious after the sending off of Stephane Sessegnon. The players’ strike on Tiote under the nose of the referee was bordering on the ridiculous. It may even have been slightly amusing if the stakes weren’t so high.
Sessegnon will now miss the next two league games, along with captain Lee Cattermole who was dismissed after the final whistle had sounded. Cattermole has received criticism on these pages before, but to his credit has shown his worth in O’Neill’s burgeoning project. His actions on Sunday should ensure the manager reconsiders his plans.
Cattermole displays a shocking level of stupidity far too consistently. If he were an unparalleled talent perhaps O’Neill could indulge the behaviour, but the limited scope of his ability means that plenty of others could fill his role without half the risk. The captain needs to be earmarked as the first for the exit this summer. Enough is enough.
From a football point of view, O’ Neill will have learned much about certain individuals’ readiness for the big stage. There were some well below average performances in the Sunderland side, and while there are mitigating factors, certain aspects will be crucial for O’Neill’s analysis and his bid to improve the squad.
Kieran Richardson endured a particularly off day. The player made just 12 out of 26 passes-with an accuracy rate of just 46%. Phil Bardsley was also wasteful in possession with just 60% of his passes finding a teammate. Centre half Michael Turner was successful just 50 % of the time. If the defenders are losing the ball with such frequency, it makes it next to impossible for the midfield to gain a foothold or control the game. Indeed Sunday’s team average of 66% was well below the season average of 74%. Again the nature of the game, the conditions and the red card can be counted as mitigating factors.
In defence there may be a slightly worrying pattern developing. Sunderland succeeded with just 13 out of an attempted 33 headed clearances. That stat is mirrored across the entire season, with the side winning just 284/697 over the course of the season.O’Neill may feel he nees to recruit additional height in the summer.
Cattermole was again the Mackem’s most prolific tackler with 4, and won the most ground duels with 8.Unfortunatley his teammates will now be without those attributes will not be available to O’ Neill until March 31.
The amount of pressure the side had to absorb is illustrated by the stats for the teams passing success in the opposition half. Seb Larsson, Phil Bardsley, John O’ Shea, Turner, Richardson and James McClean all failed to reach 50% in the attacking half. On a positive note, Craig Gardener displayed his growing maturity, making light of the chaos around him to record an 86% pass accuracy stat.
While McClean has brought undoubted guile and intensity to the left flank, O’Neill will be keen for the player to improve his stats in the opposition half. A passing accuracy of just 36 % in the opposition half shows a player who still need to improve his final ball. This is borne out by his completion of just one pass all game in the final third of the pitch. McClean does offer directness that can a huge fillip for managers and attempted 6 dribbles in this game alone. By contrast Liverpool’s Stuart Downing attempted none against Arsenal a day before. If McClean can refine the basics of the game his Sunderland career will flourish still further.
In summary O’ Neill can feel pleased that his side avoided defeat on Sunday, and the derby may have provided him with an invaluable assessment about the temperament of many within his squad. Such games can often prove more enlightening than any 3-0 win.