Stalemate at the Stadium of Light, I could report this match simply by stating the result; such was the sterile contest it turned out to be. Both teams were stubborn in their shapes and tactics, neither of which made any inroads in front of the opposition’s goal. Sunderland refused to be moved from a deep defensive line which would allow Tottenham space in the final third, Spurs reluctant to commit going forward for fear of the Black Cats’ well documented counter-attacks.
Neither side made changes from their last successful games; Emmanuel Adebayor was looking to add to the brace he seized in Tottenham’s 3-1 home victory over Swansea. Sunderland were fresh from a quite remarkable performance against title chasers Manchester City in a 3-3 draw at the Etihad Stadium.
If there was to be any doubt about how this one was going to play out, it certainly became evident within minutes of the kick-off as Spurs immediately took control of the ball. Benoit Assou-Ekotto flashed a long range effort just wide, but it was clear that it was going to take a lot more to break down Sunderland who pressed in numbers as soon as the opposition wandered into their half. Spurs nearly found it, as the ball fumbled to Luka Modric just outside the area however his low shot was easy for Simon Mignolet to collect.
A smidge of controversy was to follow as Tottenham continued their early dominance. Gareth Bale’s free kick was met by Adebayor with a free header from six yards, his effort clearly struck Phil Bardsley in the arm, though with no intent from the Scotland international it certainly would have been a harsh decision despite the vaguely extended arm.
The rest of the half was in truth a succession of corners, mainly for Sunderland who began to grow into the contest. Scott Parker did handle inside the area, but similar to Bardsley’s incident there was little intent. Matt Killgallon showed great compsure to side step a flailing Modric however his effort was tame and Nicklas Bendtner was just beaten to the rebound by Younes Kaboul from five yards.
The side’s maintained their shapes in the second half which as a result played out in much the same way. In fact, even less opportunities were mustered. Rafael Van der Vaart launched the first effort for the away side well over the bar from just inside the area. Bale was then allowed a free header which went just over.
Sunderland did weave their way into the second half as Sebastian Larsson floated a cross towards the far post however Kyle Walker was alert to prevent James McClean having a tap in – this lead to the first and only golden opportunity of the game for Tottenham. Aaron Lennon fed Van der Vaart who found himself deep in the penalty area for the first time in the match; he opened up his body, prodded past Mignolet only for Michael Turner on the cover to clear off the line. There was another half-hearted hand ball appeal, but again it would have been harsh with the ball bouncing up onto Turner’s arm after first contact with his thigh.
Larsson decided to pull out his best superman impression for the second time this season, but unlike the penalty he won at Wolves he got his just rewards with a yellow card.
Injury time and cometh injury time cometh the ‘Welsh Wizard’ who capitalised on Jack Colback’s first slack pass, three on two however Craig Gardner stepped in with an epic challenge to ensure Spurs were not to nick it in the dying moments.
An encounter you were probably best avoiding in truth. Sunderland received some negativity regarding their tactics however it certainly took two teams to make this the drab affair it was. Tottenham’s reluctance to commit too many men forward was most evident despite having a mammoth 70% of the possession, 55% of the game was played in their own half. All of Sunderland’s outfield players had more touches than Adebayor who was anonymous, he could not even muster more than keeper Mignolet with the same touches as the Belgian International, who made one save throughout.
Man of the match could have been Larsson whose delivery was superb with corners and free-kicks, Sunderland were only denied goals from that avenue by excellent defensive play. But, Colback had an impressive 94% pass completion ratio with neither Sandro nor Lennon causing him much trouble – so he gets it.
With two more points dropped, I think it’s safe to say we will not be seeing European football on Wearside next campaign, fourteen points off sixth place with just twenty-four left to play for. Next is Everton, forever our bogey team, another draw will do there!