Sunderland 0-0 Tottenham: Daily Mirror match report
Published 21:30 08/04/12 By Jason Mellor
Martin O’Neill made his point against one of the Premier League big beasts for the second straight week, but for Sunderland fans a nagging worry remained.
In the process of underlining their new-found identity as high-profile party-poopers by doing their bit to topple Tottenham’s top-three tilt, they’d just done Newcastle’s Champions League hopes a power of good.
Stadium of Light regulars didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
It wasn’t so much Ha’way the lads as away the lads. The Black Cats adopted the mantle of an ultra-cautious visiting side, just like the catenaccio system perfected in Italy, to grind out a deserved draw.
It’s almost four months since Spurs earned a win bonus anywhere other than White Hart Lane, but for long spells they were cast as unwitting hosts as Sunderland sat back and invited them forward with the intention to hit them on the break.
Ever the pragmatist, Martin O’Neill accepted the relative limitations of his side in comparison to Harry Redknapp’s richly talented team – arguably not one Sunderland player would make it into the Spurs starting XI – and his conservative game-plan worked to perfection.
In contrast to the exciting win at Manchester City the previous week, a dour stalemate ensued, one which was met with more enthusiasm at St James’ Park and Stamford Bridge, as Tottenham’s rivals for the top four were given fresh incentive to keep up the chase. Chelsea and Newcastle trail Spurs by just three points with half a dozen games to go.
“Newcastle might say they’re not in the shake up for the Champions League, but as far as we’re concerned they’re in the thick of it,” skipper Scott Parker insisted after Spurs’ loss of form stretched to one win in seven league games.
Redknapp agreed: “Newcastle are bang in with a chance. They’ve worked miracles.”
But mid-table Fulham are the highest-placed of the six clubs Spurs are still to face, and Parker said: “A top-four finish is in our hands. Our run-in is pretty decent, and we’ve to make the most of it.” The point gathered by Sunderland might prove to be more memorable in the long run than the way in which they earned it.
It was hard to work out what was less in evidence – chances, or Sunderland’s ambition to venture forward.
Michael Turner, the game’s outstanding defender, deserved a slice of luck when he cleared a late Rafael van der Vaart effort off the line with the aid of his arm. Phil Bardsley and Parker also escaped with borderline handball decisions in the area.
O’Neill’s approach helped move Sunderland a point nearer to matching their best Premier League finish of seventh, last achieved in 2001.
Bristling at the suggesting Sunderland had done their bitter local rivals a favour, the Irishman added: “I’ve never gone out to do a favour for anyone else. We had to be strong because we don’t have their resources.”