Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1: Where’s Niall Quinn when you need him?
In times of trouble, a common escape route is to don rose-tinted spectacles and wallow in a spot of good old-fashioned nostalgia. Gus Poyet wasn’t exactly wallowing, more drawing uncomfortable parallels between Sunderland past and present.
The lessons of last season’s Great Escape haven’t been learned as the Wearside club tumble towards another bitter fight for Premier League survival, largely courtesy of scoring just 18 goals this term.
That’s only three more than Quinn managed on his own for the Black Cats in 2000 as the Dubliner, who became so much more to the club in the subsequent decade, combined with the even more prolific Kevin Phillips to help Sunderland to back-to-back seventh-place finishes.
“That team of Quinn and Phillips had some great characteristics,” Poyet said, after seeing his side make it one win in 11 league games. He added: “The rest of Sunderland’s teams since then didn’t have any characteristics, they were rubbish!”
Despite their slender margin of victory, Liverpool will have fewer easier wins this season, and Poyet added: “We have to be realistic. Sunderland have been in the top 10 a couple of times in the last 15 years. Maybe people would like to go back in time but Quinn retired a few years ago, and Phillips is a coach at Leicester, so we can’t go back to that team.” How the majority of another 40,000-plus crowd witnessed this latest offensive no-show must wish they could.
More often than not with an overzealous club press officer in tow, the views of Premier League footballers in the aftermath of a game can be notoriously difficult to ascertain. Simon Mignolet proved to be an exception.
The Liverpool goalkeeper was happy to discuss the most comprehensive single-goal hammering handed out this season, simply pleased to find gainful employment in front of the microphones. It proved a change from the previous 90 minutes, where his involvement was at best sporadic.
For a player slowly piecing together a self-confidence shattered by a litany of putrid personal performances, a visit to his former club proved a valuable stopping-off point in that painstaking process. This was only a fifth clean sheet in 32 appearances for the affable Belgian, but few will have been achieved with such comfort.
Liverpool have lost once in 13 games and look like swiftly improving on their eighth place, while it’s difficult to see Sunderland doing anything other than heading in the opposite direction. The pressure is beginning to tell on Poyet. Frustrated by what he perceives as a lack of ambition in the club’s player recruitment policy, he didn’t always take kindly to some of the post-match questions. “You have a big space to fill in your paper, and can write what you think,” he said.
Mignolet was less prickly. Asked if he was surprised he hadn’t been put under more pressure by his former team-mates, save Adam Johnson hitting the bar soon after Liam Bridcutt’s needless second yellow card for the hosts, Mignolet’s said. “We kept the ball from them. They didn’t get the chance to put us under much pressure.”
In Sunderland’s predicament, a single goal often proves sufficient against them, and it arrived early from Lazar Markovic’s scruffy close-range finish, owing much to an advantage played by ref Craig Pawson.
Markovic also struck the bar and had a penalty denied as the hosts somehow avoided a hiding. In so many ways, Sunderland’s class of 2015 are a pale imitation of the side overseen by Peter Reid for those two halcyon seasons at the Millennium’s outset. For his part in that, plus much more on and off the pitch besides, Quinn’s place in the club’s history is assured.
Perhaps there could be another chapter left to write in the form of an improbable playing comeback. Even at the age of 48, and with or without his famed disco pants, he couldn’t have been more ineffective than Connor Wickham.
SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1): Pantilimon 5; Vergini 4, O’Shea 5, Brown 4, Van Aanholt 4; Bridcutt 3; Johnson 5 (Mandon 86, 4), Larsson 4, Gomez 3, Giaccherini 4 (Buckley 77, 4); Wickham 3 (Graham 77, 4).
LIVERPOOL (3-4-2-1): Mignolet 7; Can 7, Skrtel 7, Sakho 7; Markovic 9, Henderson 8, Lucas 7, Moreno 7; Gerrard 7 (Lovren 46, 7), Coutinho 7; Borini 6 (Balotelli 67, 5).
Referee: Craig Pawson 6.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved