Steve Bruce was happy to focus on the positives despite Sunderland's penalty shoot-out defeat to Aston Villa on Tuesday night – with the performance of young midfielder Jordan Henderson giving him the greatest satisfaction.
Henderson, 19, was the best outfield player on the pitch after turning in a composed display which deserved better than to end in tears. The local boy was one of three Sunderland players to see efforts saved by Villa's Brad Guzan in a penalty shoot-out at the end of 120 goalless minutes in their Carling Cup fourth-round clash.
Bruce said: "The kid is broken-hearted after missing the penalty as you would expect. He's only 19 and I didn't think he deserved that on his performance, he was excellent."
Henderson peppered Guzan's goal throughout the contest after a number of surging runs from midfield with his best effort coming just before half-time, a fierce volley which Guzan did well to parry.
Bruce added: "He has been in my thoughts all season, he has been involved in every game we have played. He has run himself to a standstill tonight and I would love to see the distance he has covered. I think we have a very, very good player on our hands. He is very disappointed but he will learn from it."
Sunderland had the better chances over the 120 minutes but failed to beat Guzan, who was inspired.
The American kept his side in it with an 83rd-minute penalty save from Kenwyne Jones before performing further heroics in the shoot-out.
Bruce lamented his side's profligacy in front of goal with Jones and Kieran Richardson, who missed a one-on-one with Guzan in the closing minutes of extra-time, particularly wasteful.
But he was pleased with the general level of performance. "I think everyone knew that when it went to penalties we had no chance of winning, not with the chances we missed," he said. "It wasn't our night as our overall performance was excellent against a very good Aston Villa side. In my opinion we deserved to go through but when you play against a side like Villa you are only going to create four or five chances and unfortunately we weren't able to take one."
For Villa, the night was all about Guzan, who was described as "immense" by his manager Martin O'Neill. "You just got the feeling it would have to be something special to beat him," said O'Neill. "He looked confident and capable. I can pay him no higher compliment than saying I was almost expecting him to save them."
O'Neill was not getting carried away with Villa's progress into the last eight, however, adding: "It was a great win for us and we are in the quarter-finals but we must not look past the draw at the weekend. The players are tired and we must now focus on a big game for us against Everton on Saturday but this will certainly help confidence."
Blackburn Rovers defender Michel Salgado has urged his team-mates to play without fear after he got on the scoresheet on Tuesday as his side shrugged off concerns about illness in the camp with a comprehensive 5-2 victory over Peterborough in the Carling Cup to book their place in the quarter-finals.
It has been a roller-coaster month for the club, who have been beaten 5-0 at Chelsea and 6-2 at Arsenal, triumphed in the east Lancashire derby against bitter rivals Burnley and endured an outbreak of swine flu. Their October schedule finishes on Saturday with the daunting prospect of a trip to Manchester United and Salgado admits that away results must improve – but hopes the performance against Peterborough will encourage the players to enjoy their football.
"It's a good result because it puts us through to the quarter-final -– that's important because the Carling Cup is a great trophy, but also after the score in London [against Chelsea], it is very important for our confidence," Salgado said. "Now we have to play better in the away games. It is a very difficult month for us, playing away against Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United, but we have done a job – we won the derby against Burnley and we have now got to the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup. We will try to play better on Saturday against Man United.
"We have to keep the ball more in away games because of the way we have been giving it away to our opponents. It is very difficult to play against Chelsea and Arsenal if they always have the ball. But also, we have to not be frightened – we have to play and enjoy because in these types of games, we can only win. If we get out with a draw or a win from Old Trafford it will be great for us because normally, you are going to lose there."Reuse content