Chris Coleman’s men travelled to the Midlands for what would be a very tough trip to league leaders Wolves. After defeat to Reading last week, manager Coleman knew he needed to do something to change the record. Lynden Gooch received the nod over Aiden McGeady and Donald Love replaced the suspended Callum McManaman as the Wearsiders would take on Wolves with five at the back.
1500 Sunderland fans braced the December weather to travel to Wolverhampton to cheer on the lads and to come home with a valuable point.
Pubs and first impressions of Molineux
I drove the three and a half hours, through the snow, down to Wolverhampton and parked in a car wash that charged a fiver for match day parking. It was only a short ten minute walk to the ground from an industrial estate; as I wasn’t wearing any visible Sunderland colours, I had a few drinks in ‘Lounge 107’ that was literally across the road from the Stan Cullis End.
The pub was decent enough, all be it apart from the fact it was a home fans only bar – the regulars were fine with us, one Wolves fan even tipped us to beat them! Pubs for visiting supporters were few and far between, the closest being in Wolverhampton city centre; most local pubs had ‘home fans only’ signs up. The short walk across the road to the ground was a lot more difficult than first thought as the Midlands snow had quickly turned into ice; something a home fan in front of me found out the hard way!
Molineux recently had its Stan Cullis End redeveloped, in 2012; this however was the only newish part of the stadium. The three other stands weren’t connected, thus causing a terrible wind onto the visiting support in the Steve Bull Stand. The seats were absolutely soaking as it had been tipping down with snow the previous day and earlier that morning; this nearly had the fixture called off.
Molineux has a similar set out to Stoke City’s Bet365 Stadium, in terms of stands; the away end at Stoke is a lot more favourable than that at Molineux. The travelling 1500 Mackems were spread out along the the lower tier of the Steve Bull Stand, which only has about a dozen rows of seats, this created a somewhat muted atmosphere among the away fans, nothing to do with our support though.
The match was to put it bluntly; flat. Sunderland sat back in a defensive five at the back formation, allowing Nuno Espirito Santo’s men a lot of possession. Going forward we looked terrible too – not that we were going forward a lot; Darron Gibson just passed the ball around calmly which irritated some fans but he controlled our midfield. Love out at right back looked shaky and a bit unsure of himself but eventually grew in to the game, although he did give up rather easily when Wolves were on the counter and Gibson of all people tracked back and somehow managed to catch Leo Bonatini.
Credit where credit’s due, Gibson had a decent enough game, fair enough he didn’t really want the ball and often passed back - but he didn't make any stupid errors, like his central midfield partner Lee Cattermole would do.
Other errors came mostly from the defence, Marc Wilson’s inability to play a successful pass nearly cost us when he gifted the ball to on loan Atletico Madrid forward Diogo Jota with a moronic back pass on the half way line, John O’Shea managed to pull his fellow countryman out of it. Another error came from Tyias Browning, also part of the centre back trio. On more than one occasion he let the ball go under his foot; lucky for him none of the errors cost us.
Cattermole completely deserved his red card; there was no need to make either of the challenges. People after the game said it was his first foul, it wasn’t as the referee in the first half had already warned him. He needlessly brought down Moroccan Romain Saiss, about 15 yards outside of the Wolves penalty box – some may say it was harsh but it was stupid and not his first foul.
His second booking was a result of the free kick, before that he might’ve been sent off for arguing with the referee about his first, if it wasn’t for Lewis Grabban who pulled him away. Love played a simple ball to the Boro born holding midfielder but his touch was abysmal and Jota nicked the ball, only for Cattermole to dive in and wipe out the young Portuguese attacker. Cattermole was consequently, and rightly so dismissed by referee Jeffrey Simpson; Simpson admittedly was inconsistent but credit to him for not hesitating and sending Cattermole off.
Post match thoughts
A short walk back to the car saw some home fans slip in the winter conditions and one bloke sliding down the pavement and into a bush near Halford’s. The traffic was pretty light by the time we had decided to leave, lots of the home fans had already departed before the five minutes of injury time.
Overall, a solid and spirited performance by the Black Cats, apart from a few moments of madness it was a decent performance by Coleman’s men on the road. Wolves looked average; though young central midfielder Ruben Neves looked like he could be starting in a top half Premier League side. The record signing for the league and Wolves cost £15.8 million and controlled everything. At only 19 years old he’s certainly one for the future and will more than likely feature for Portugal next summer in the World Cup.
Wolves dominated in possession with 78% of the ball, but the only stat that matters for us is the scoreline and that says we got a point – a very crucial one at that. We honestly looked better and more organised with ten men and we kept our shape brilliantly, all credit to Mr Coleman. However, we need to build on this fantastic result and win or at least get four points from our next two home games against Fulham and Birmingham City respectively.
The next trip for the travelling support will be a trip to South Yorkshire to Bramall Lane on Boxing Day, home to high-flying Sheffield United who’ve flourished under Chris Wilder since promotion to the league at the beginning of the season.
One final thought is that it is a bloody rip off that it costs £3.80 to drive down the M6.
Next week I’ll be speaking to a former Sunderland winger in the next part of ‘On The Grill’ - so keep an eye out for that!