Going into a difficult game, new manager Gus Poyet took a gamble in only his fourth league game in charge at Sunderland. Poyet brought his veteran centre-back, Wes Brown, back from the cold to make his first league start since January 2012. Brown showed that Poyet’s faith was well placed and put in a terrific performance to help Sunderland to a 1-0 victory over Manchester City. Poyet described the game as “the biggest win of his managerial career” and Wes Brown had a lot to do with it.
Wes Brown made his return to Sunderland last week coming on in the 45th minute against Hull after missing the second half of the 2011/2012 season and all of 21012/2013. He did start the game midweek in the Capital One Cup against Southampton but this was Brown’s first Premier League start since January 2012. The ex-Manchester United man did not make a single appearance all last season and was told he could leave the club over the summer. Brown stayed, but Paolo Di Canio did not give him a chance. With Gus Poyet coming in, Brown got that chance.
During the week, both defender John O’Shea and Gus Poyet said that a healthy Wes Brown could make a huge difference and could possibly be the difference in them staying up or going down. Brown’s leadership and organisation were key factors in Sunderland somehow keeping a clean sheet versus Manchester City, despite wave after wave of pressure. The entire Sunderland defence should be applauded for their fantastic discipline, organisation, and heart. Sunderland as a team had to make 37 clearances, make 11 tackles and withstood the City barrage that mustered 24 shots.
Brown individually made a big difference to the team and was a real leader at the back. Brown got Sunderland out of a lot of danger over the course of the game making eight clearances with five being in the last 15 minutues. Brown showed a lot of experience and knew where to position himself, making six interceptions, including two that were inside the penalty box. Brown also put his body on the line blocking two of the eight blocked shots by the Sunderland team.
Brown’s Premier League experience and understanding with his former teammate at Manchester United, John O’Shea, showed as the game wore on. With around 10 minutes left in the game the commentators on NBC Sports were saying how the experience of the veterans, such as Brown and O’Shea, would start to show through – and it did. When you watched the back line of the Sunderland defence at the end of the game, they kept their shape well, managing to keep the two banks of defenders compact, rarely pulled out of position, despite all the passing and probing from City. If you watched Brown in particular, you would see him telling people what to do and helped keep the shape of the team.
Brown was calm at the back and took the second most touches on the Sunderland team. This may also show just how much Sunderland sat back, but Brown was not dispossessed once and he only lost possession 10 times total. Brown also provided an assist for the only goal of the game to fellow stand out defender, Phil Bardsley. Brown made sure not to make the big mistake, completing 93% of the passes in his own half. Brown also made the second most passes for Sunderland. Again you can interpret this both as Sunderland sitting back a lot and/or as Wes Brown being composed and the team trusting going back to him.
Could he be the difference?
John O’Shea said over the weekend that a fit Wes Brown could be the difference. It would be a bit far fetched to say that Wes Brown alone could make that much of a difference but, if Brown and O’Shea can become a dependable pairing, even in their old age, then that could be key to Sunderland’s survival. Sunderland have reeled off three wins in their last four games and will hope that the form continues. If they can continue this form it makes Sunderland’s survival chances much higher and Wes Brown as a defender and a leader could help continue the form.