O'Neill magic foils Swansea pass masters
Sunderland 2 Swansea city 0: Sessègnon and Gardner keep Sunderland firing much to the disbelief of a brave Welsh team
Tactical genius or lucky you know what. It was a debate to be had after Sunderland ground out another victory under Martin O'Neill against one of the bravest newly promoted sides to step into the Premier League. No Blackpool this Swansea lot, who were left scratching their heads as they took the applause from the one thousand or so supporters who believe in what they are doing.
It did not bring victory, or even a goal, on a bitterly cold North-east afternoon. That felt a bit harsh, but against that Sunderland executed a gameplan pretty much according to their manager's instruction.
Six wins in the nine games since he took over a squad shorn of confidence is proof enough that there is undoubted method in the revival.
Swansea delight in having the ball and so Sunderland let them have it. Over-simplification? Perhaps. At times they sat deep, at times they simply couldn't get it.
A triumvirate of diminutive Swansea players – Nathan Dyer, Joe Allen and Leon Britton – fizzed the ball around, creating troublesome angles that make it difficult to stop. Their only real deflation came in the two exquisite strikes that gave Sunderland victory.
Stéphane Sessègnon flashes between naivety and brilliance. Two minutes after his original strike partner Nikolas Bendtner had gone off with a nasty-looking eye injury that will require further medical assessment today, he scored a superb first. The link-up play with James McClean was similarly impressive, taking a pass from the Irish winger, giving it back to him and having the favour once more returned before curling a fine, right-foot shot beyond Michel Vorm.
An away side could have gone long at that point, or retreated into their shells. Swansea kept passing. Danny Graham headed over, Gylfi Sigurdsson twice went close from distance and then Graham shot over again. The reaction of the Sunderland support – fairly unsettled – was telling, but by the 75th minute, their team still led. A minute later Sessègnon headed over from McClean's cross and five minutes from time, they had landed a killer sucker punch. Sessègnon squared the ball to Craig Gardner, who from 30 yards struck a rising shot over the head of Vorm.
"There is hurt and disbelief we didn't get something," said Brendan Rodgers. "I thought the scoreline was very very harsh. In terms of the result, it was disappointing, but the performance level was so high. I thought we were fantastic today. We created chances but the final touch and final ball let us down a bit."
Sunderland sneaked into the top 10 with their victory. O'Neill has 16 points from a possible 24 since taking over. "I'm delighted we're in the position we are," said O'Neill. "The points on the board are essential, just to keep a bit of momentum going and keep the players' self belief strong."
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; Bardsley, O'Shea, Brown, Richardson; Larsson (Elmohamady, 89), Cattermole, Vaughan (Gardner, 78), McClean; Bendtner (Wickham, 12), Sessègnon .
Swansea (4-1-4-1): Vorm; Angel, Caulker, Williams, Taylor; Allen; Dyer, Britton (Routledge, 78), Sigurdsson (McEachran 67), Sinclair; Graham.
Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the match: Dyer (Swansea)
Match rating: 6/10
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