Saturday, 12 September 2009

05: Sunderland 4 - 1 Hull City - 12/09/2009

One can only hope that Sunderland fans know just how fantastic a player they have acquired. Michael Turner ruled the match, scored a goal against his former employers and left the stadium with every supporter in awe of him.

That is the effect a player of talent, professionalism and star quality can have, even though few dramatists would dare suggest he should leave one club, make his debut for new employers against those he bade farewell, and then score a goal. But he did. All of that, and more.

Much as Turner will be unanimously and unconditionally idolised by the Tiger Nation forever, this wasn't just about him. His goal, albeit one which re-broke hearts that were just beginning to regain their strength after the club chose to sell him, was a token effort; just the fourth of four. Sunderland had already won a match in which City, especially in the second half, were a mere passenger outfit, clueless and negative, soft-centred and lame.

Phil Brown picked the predictable 4-5-1 that included Paul McShane's second debut and Ibrahima Sonko's first in Turner's place, but instead of Jozy Altidore or the intriguing new Dutch centre forward Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink further upfield, he opted for the ever-unappealing Craig Fagan as the lone frontman. Fagan has been enigmatic and frustrating for too long now, as for all his occasional ability to score sudden goals he is a performer whose mouth has more bad influence than his feet will ever have good. As for his brain, well heaven can only say where that had disappeared to when he flung up a hand, unchallenged, as a Sunderland corner swung in and offered a penalty on a plate to the home side which Darren Bent swept in.

Early idiocy had cost the Tigers dear, and yet there had been some reason for hope prior to Fagan's brainstorm. Geovanni had tested supposedly-crocked keeper Craig Gordon with one penetrating cross and then a vigorous cross-shot, and then the Brazilian combined well with the loudly-barracked McShane to pull a tempting ball back from the byline but with nobody able to finish the job.

The penalty sharpened City's resolve, briefly, and Kamel Ghilas, eager and quick but too isolated in a wide role, chased a Seyi Olofinjana clearance while the world waited for an offside flag, but Gordon scooped up the bouncing ball just before the sharp Algerian could get his studs on it. Stephen Hunt then aimed a narrow-angled volley right at Gordon after Olofinjana's cross was cleared his way.

City began to force some set-pieces with Kamil Zayatte the main target, first glancing a header from Hunt's free kick right at Gordon, then aiming a meatier header too high from Sonko's long throw. Third time lucky came the eccentric centre back's way, however, when he met Hunt's corner with a sturdy nod downwards and found the net via a post.

The affable Zayatte celebrated with a smile and a slide, and half time came shortly afterwards with City even feeling ascendant, given that Fagan could have added a second from Geovanni's centre but headed too weakly and directionlessly to cause any headache for Gordon.

The second half was a hurtful, demoralising affair. Sunderland took City apart, with the Tigers contributing as much to their downfall with shoddy defending as the home side did with crisp attacking. Indeed, the absentee from the defence was as notable as the hole his absence had opened. Turner ruled the Sunderland back four with the aplomb and authority we have been spoilt by through the last three years.

Up front, there was some tepid, mediocre joy to be had from Fraizer Campbell's lack of punch or influence - we said he wouldn't play, and in many ways he didn't - and there was briefly time to cackle at his air shot in front of goal before the ball was returned to the flank and crossed again for the rotund Andy Reid to place a guided shot beyond Boaz Myhill's hand for 2-1.

City responded by withdrawing the hopeless Fagan and slinging on the latest striking sensation, allegeddly, as Vennegoor of Hesselink strode on to the park. Before much else had happened, Altidore appeared in place of the tiring Ghilas. Changes up front however were going to help the creaking back four very little, and soon a wretched attempt to catch Bent offside failed, and the Twittering centre forward calmly glided a shot past Myhill and make sure of the points.

Altidore tried a shot on the turn immediately from the restart but it plopped well wide and yet represented all City possessed as a threat in the second half. A half-hearted handball appeal from Hunt's corner was ignored by the referee and then McShane unwittingly got in the way of a Geovanni drive which didn't look goalbound anyway.

Andy Dawson then put in a fine tackle on Campbell after forcing the ex-City loanee wide, and catcalls from unforgiving members of the Tiger Nation were greeted by a smile and a rasp of the tongue from Campbell, which hardly endeared him further to the supporters who would have walked over hot coals to have him return to their club. He stayed on as Kenwyne Jones emerged from the bench, presumably so Steve Bruce could give him maximum chance to get the goal he didn't deserve, and so it was Bent who made way.

Sunderland then forced a corner and Turner, with crushing inevitability (and worrying ease), met the near post delivery with a simple header that beat Myhill. As the cheers rang out, Turner's momentum took him towards the gutted Tiger Nation and quickly he offered a gesture of regret before wheeling off in the opposite direction to celebrate his debut goal with delight but welcome subtlety. As agonising as it was to see him score against us, it was at least a signal of how mature and thoughtful he is as a human being and he will be thanked for it long after the scars of his departure and then his biting of the feeding hand have faded away. The chairman must have been thrilled at seeing the player he cast aside so wantonly and purposelessly thriving so strongly at his next club. After all, he didn't want to stand in his way of Turner's ambition, apparently.

Litle followed, and the final whistle was greeted with as much relief that the punishment was over as it was with anger at City's incompetence and the obvious nailed-on consequence of seeing a club legend perform so typically brilliantly against the club that should still have his registration.

The club would have us forget about him, but while there's so little to take our minds off him, why should we? He was our greatest hope of staying up via a decent defensive unit. Without him our hopes are severely diminished, and we don't need the spectacle of watching him play and score against us to be reminded of that. A bad footballing defeat, caused and aided by a bad footballing decision.

Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley (Mensah 77), Turner, Ferdinand, Richardson, Malbranque (Da Silva 80), Cana, Cattermole, Reid, Bent (Jones 73), Campbell. Subs not used: Carson, Nosworthy, Murphy, Henderson.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Zayatte, Sonko, Dawson, Ghilas (Altidore 63), Olofinjana, Kilbane (Mendy 76), Hunt, Geovanni, Fagan (Vennegoor of Hesselink 58). Subs not used: Duke, Barmby, Halmosi, Boateng.