Well following our disappointing performance midweek, this was sure to be a stern test of both our resolve and our ability to blend many different players together. All this coming together in our curtain raiser for the new Premiership campaign made for a tasty match.
Roy Keane had his side ready and rearing to go, which came as no surprise. You could see that his mentality has begun to take hold on his squad even at this early stage. Shoulder barges, strong tackles, and just plain running over opposing players were the norm for a side that appears to be much improved over last season.
Now I personally pulled for Sunderland last term, but the addition of Diouf and all his bluster really turns my stomach. Listening to him before the game about how his “magic” was sure to scare us just reminded me of how easy it is to misspend following a major international tournament (Liverpool meet the 02′ World Cup) Now that magic had several opportunities to present itself, especially in the form of a gifted opportunity from Hyypia early on. However, as the score ended in a goose egg for the home side, I think we all know how that turned out.
Thankfully for us, our own El Nino does happen to have a bit of magic about him, I’d even say it’s more than just a bit. The Spanish Sensation is absolutely dripping wet with it, as he uncorked a 25 yard scorcher into the bottom corner. The camera shot from inside the back of the net told the whole story; a harmless bit of possession from seemingly far enough away to leave time for Gordon to make a stop left him grasping nothing but air as the ball curled beautifully past him at pace.
Short of that moment unfortunately it was not a match to write home about. Our cohesion was tentative at best, and our ability to hold onto the ball limited. Regardless of his potential, Damien Plessis simply does not have that same quality in midfield as Mascherano, the one that leads him to sniff out each ball even before the opposing player knows he’s going to play it himself. Every match we play without our Monster in the middle makes his transfer fee seem more and more like a bargain. He can’t return from the Olympics fast enough, especially as I anticipate him slotting back into the side rather seamlessly.
That’s not an attempt to take a dig at Plessis, I just don’t feel he’s up to the task of holding down a feisty well run side on their home ground. Home v Wigan is fine and dandy, but plying your trade on the road in the Premiership is another story all together. Chalk it up as a good experience and move on from here, he has plenty of time to grow.
One other player who needs to be mentioned was Alonso, his passing and confidence both seem to be growing even as he supposedly is attempting to force his way out the door. Either way, I’m glad to see this for him as he is a quality footballer and deserves to be on top of his game and injury free. When he came on at the half, he breathed a new life into the side and actually lead to us building towards a winner. In the first half, we were lifeless and showed little of our usual tenacity in the midfield.
All in all, a solid win on the road and a quality way to start the campaign. Let’s move on into next week and put 3 more points on top of the ones we already have. If we can take that idea into each match and build on it every week then we will be in good shape as the latter stages of the season draw nearer.
p.s. Let’s hope the owners aren’t foolish enough to drive Rafa away, especially now that we’ve started our year. That’s another post for another time, but for god’s sake if you’re going to replace a manager you don’t do it with less than a week before the league starts!