The talk before kick-off was all about the now departed Jordan Henderson, but Steve Bruce will be more concerned about the players currently at his disposal. To this end, Saturday must have felt like a vindication of sorts for the Sunderland boss, who used his resources and tactical acumen to rescue a point from what had seemed like certain defeat.
Having watched his side largely overwhelmed by an expensively assembled Liverpool side in the first half, the manager was able to gather his charges at half time, and will be extremely pleased with a second half performance that both stagnated and frustrated the hosts.
Seb Larsson’s debut goal will have been of particular delight to Bruce, who must have gleaned some satisfaction at his free summer signing levelling the score. Moments later, the player he sold for £16 million was substituted after what could best be described as an inauspicious debut for his new club.
Bruce deserves huge credit for the comeback on Saturday, most notably in encouraging his side to deliver the ball from wide areas. This was undoubtedly a ploy to unnerve what proved to be a rocky home defence. Sunderland were comprehensively outscored on most of the stats on Saturday, but tellingly the visitors had more crosses in open play (16 to the hosts 15). That Sunderland secured the equaliser from one such cross was no accident.
While Liverpool were reduced to ponderous attacks in the second half, Bruce’s side countered with real purpose and the use of the early cross or through ball threatened to undo the home defence on more than one occasion.
The deployment of Seb Larsson on the left flank could also be considered a tactical coup for the manager. The Swede took full advantage of the relative inexperience of Liverpool’s right back John Flanagan, and his devastating finish was just reward for a strategy well planned and implemented.
Further cause for celebration for the Sunderland management came in the form of another new signing. The acquisition of Wes Brown raised many questions earlier this summer. Was he past it? Can he stay fit? Why were United suddenly so keen to get rid?
The answers to the latter questions are for another day, but on last weekends’ evidence it is clear that Brown still has plenty to offer. Moreover, his nous and composure gave an assurance to the back four which will have delighted the manager.
The stats speak for themselves. Brown was successful in all 3 of his tackles, won 11/15 of his possession duels, completed 9 clearances and blocked one shot. To sum up, he was immense. It ensured the contribution of Andy Carroll was negligible throughout and in truth the visitors were comfortable in the final stages.
It is of course, still early days, but Bruce’s new signings could scarcely have done more to vindicate the summer transfer policy. A lot will depend on whether or not Brown can keep himself off the treatment table, but if he can, and admittedly it is a big if, Sunderland finally have a solid base from which to build.
Follow on Twitter @seanied8 (Sean Duffy)