'Terrific' Gordon hailed as save keeps Sunderland buoyant
Sunderland 1 Bolton 0
Monday 20 December 2010
After his upwardly mobile side had held out for another victory in their impenetrable home fortress, Steve Bruce waxed not so much lyrically as historically about the stunning save with which Craig Gordon denied Zat Knight a 45th-minute equaliser.
"Jim Montgomery comes to mind," the Sunderland manager said. "It was a terrific save, as good as I've seen."
Ah, but it was not quite the full Monty. The goalkeeping trick that Montgomery performed for his home-town club in the 1973 FA Cup final against Leeds United – bringing Bob Stokoe dancing onto the Wembley turf to embrace him at the final whistle – was not one wondrous save, but two in swift succession. With Sunderland leading 1-0, courtesy of Ian Porterfield, "Monty" threw himself to his left to keep out a diving header from Trevor Cherry, then somehow picked himself up off the turf to parry a Peter Lorimer shot up onto the crossbar.
"And Cherry going in ... a great save ... and a goal ... no!" the near-breathless Brian Moore said in his ITV commentary. "My goodness, I thought Lorimer had got that one!" So did the prostrate Cherry. He banged his right fist down on the Wembley turf in frustration.
On Saturday a look of sheer disbelief was frozen on Knight's face after Gordon got his left arm to a prodded close-range shot from the Bolton central defender, deflecting the goal-bound effort up and over his cross-bar. It was a brilliant reflex stop from the Scottish goalkeeper. And, like Monty's celebrated double save of 37 years ago, it preserved a 1-0 lead that Sunderland managed to hold until the final whistle.
Thus, the difference between two evenly-matched teams in a fiercely-fought contest proved to be the diving header that Danny Welbeck directed past Jussi Jaaskelainen in the 32nd minute. The three points put Sunderland into sixth spot in the Premier League table, in place of Bolton. They go into Christmas level on points with Spurs, and with talk of the possibility of continental nights returning to Wearside.
There have been just the two of them to date: Cup Winners' Cup ties against Vasas Budapest and Sporting Lisbon at a rocking Roker Park in the autumn of 1973, on the back of the Wembley heroics performed by Montgomery, Porterfield and co.
Not that you will catch Bruce contemplating the prospect of European qualification. "The only time I got a bollocking off Dave Whelan was when I said, 'Can you imagine Wigan in Europe?'" he recalled on Saturday, smiling at the memory. "I said, 'We'll go on easyJet and we'll take the supporters with us on the same plane.' He didn't like it at all.
"So I'll dampen down expectation about Europe. My aim has not changed. I just want to make us an established Premier League team. We're gathering momentum very nicely but we've got to keep our feet on the floor. You always know that round the corner there's going to be a tough time."
Bruce's side have been gathering momentum since their extremely embarrassing 5-1 kick up the backside at neighbours Newcastle on 31 October: with four wins, three draws and one defeat.
Just round the corner for them, however, happens to be a Boxing Day date at Old Trafford – for which the in-form Welbeck will be unavailable because he happens to be on loan from Manchester United.
The 20-year-old striker has bagged five goals in six matches now, red-hot form that seems likely to ensure he returns to the Red Devils after his season-long loan. "You never know," Bruce mused. "Fergie has got a birthday coming up shortly. He might get generous in his old age.
"I somehow doubt it, though."
Scorer: Welbeck 32. Subs: Sunderland Al-Muhammadi (Mensah, 21), Zenden (Gyan, 73). Bolton Klasnic (Petrov, 63), Cohen (Muamba, 83), Moreno (Taylor, 83).
Booked: Sunderland Cattermole. Bolton Cahill, Muamba, Holden.
Man of the match Welbeck.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside)
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