Sunderland stole a march on their English Premier League rivals for the Europa League qualification places with a 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. The win took them ahead of Bolton in the table, and the Black Cats now occupy sixth position―the highest they have managed for a decade.
On a day when the main winner in the Premier League was the freezing weather that decimated the fixture list, a fifth goal of the campaign from on-loan striker Danny Welbeck delivered three points for the Wearsiders in a hard fought affair.
There was little to choose between the two sides for half an hour as their close positions on the ladder might have predicted. The pace was frantic, which would at least have kept everyone warm on a bitterly cold afternoon, and nobody seemed to have time to settle on the ball for more than a moment or two. By the half hour mark though, the home team was starting to string a few passes together.
On 32 minutes Darren Bent showed excellent control in receiving the ball beyond the far post. His shot was parried by Jussi Jaaskelainen, only for the ball to rebound into the path of Welbeck, who scored past the luckless Bolton keeper with a diving header.
Teams managed by Owen Coyle are nothing if not resilient, and although Bolton was somewhat below par on the day, they predictably came back at Sunderland. The Trotters always present a threat from any set piece, and so it came as no surprise that their best chance came from a corner.
Defender Lee Cattermole headed back across the face of goal and Zat Knight made a good connection with his right boot from point blank range, only to witness Scottish keeper Craig Gordon pull off a truly astounding one handed reflex save. The ball was already past him and on the way in when he somehow managed to twist backwards and make enough contact with the fingers of his left hand to push it over the crossbar to safety. This really was an outstanding piece of goalkeeping, and it is no exaggeration to say that it was on a par with Gordon Banks' legendary save from Pele in the 1970 World Cup.
The second half largely followed the pattern of the first. Danny Welbeck might have extended Sunderland’s lead after 70 minutes, but his side-footer hit the outside of the far post. In desperation, Bolton resorted to pumping high balls into the Sunderland penalty area in the closing stages, but they failed to make an impression and their best chance was squandered by substitute Ivan Klasnic in time added on.
As Sunderland has been notorious for leaking late goals, Steve Bruce would have been well pleased with the clean sheet. The Sunderland manager spoke to Mirror Football after the game.
“It was a terrific result for us," Bruce said. "Danny was alert for the winning goal and Craig made a fantastic save to keep the lead. Welbeck’s a fantastic talent and he has benefited from playing regularly. Gordon’s stop was certainly the save of the season.”
Blackburn and West Ham Share the Points
Blackburn Rovers and West ham United drew 1-1 at Ewood Park with the home team having to settle for a point in its first encounter of the post Sam Allardyce era.
Truth be told, there was little to set the pulses racing about this one. Rovers captain Ryan Nelsen broke the deadlock after 50 minutes with a scruffy effort that bounced in off his thigh following an almighty goalmouth scramble. However, they all count and caretaker manager Steve Kean was no doubt hoping that it might be enough to give him a first win. He told the Premier League website reporters that “the lads are disappointed. They feel as though it's points dropped rather than winning a point.”
It would have been hard on the Hammers to go away with nothing however, and they received their just reward courtesy of a crisp strike from substitute Junior Stanislas in the 77th minute.
"I think we deserved three points," West Ham boss Avram Grant maintained, according to The Telegraph. That may or may not be the case, but what is certain is that the one they managed is not enough to alleviate their current predicament.
Saturday Fixtures Postponed:
Arsenal v Stoke City
Birmingham City v Newcastle United
Liverpool v Fulham
Wigan Athletic v Aston Villa
Sunday Fixtures Postponed:
Blackpool v Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea v Manchester United
West Bromwich Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers