Martin O'Neill's enjoyed a great debut as Sunderland manager as the hosts came from behind at the Stadium of Light to beat Blackburn 2-1 thanks to late goals from David Vaughan and Sebastian Larsson
So here it is then, the day Sunderland supporters have been waiting for: the arrival of a Sunderland fan at Sunderland for his first match as the Sunderland manager as Sunderland look to escape a relegation scrap that would not go down too well in the city of Sunderland. Have I mentioned Sunderland at all yet? Oh, yes, I have.
Forgive me Blackburn followers, for I know your team is also playing today, but it's hard to get away from the feeling this match has an awful lot to do with the home side, or, more specifically, their new manager.
That's right folks, Martin O'Neill is back. Football's original Jumpin' Jack Flash (take note André Villas-Boas) has given up on standing next to Adrian Chiles, Gareth Southgate and an ever-simmering Roy Keane at the edge of a pitch somewhere in Europe to return to management for the first time since walking out on Aston Villa prior to the start of the last season. Ironically, O'Neill's last game in charge of Villa was a home fixture against Blackburn.
This should be a special day for the 59-year-old given he supported Sunderland as a boy, indeed his love of the club is so great that he did not even discuss transfer budgets with owner Ellis Short just in case the American took offence and decided not to give him the job. "I didn't want Mr Short to change his mind," said O'Neill.
Do we believe him? Personally I think there is more chance of Angela Merkel and David Cameron sharing a bowl of olives at Pizza Express than there is off the Northern Irishman not discussing transfer funds prior to agreeing to be the Sunderland manager, but there you go.
What is for sure is that O'Neill has a job on his hands. No wins in five games, and defeat in their last two, means Sunderland begin this game in 18th place, just one place and one point ahead of Blackburn, who may just fancy this one given they beat Swansea 4-2 in their last league outing. Whatever the outcome, the travelling crowd are sure to again make clear their feeling about Steve Kean, the manager. He's not popular you know.
Teams to follow...
Sunderland: Westwood, O'Shea, Bramble, Brown, Bardsley,
Larsson, Colback, Vaughan, Richardson, Sessegnon, Wickham.
Subs: Kilgallon, Ji, Meyler, McClean, Carson, Elmohamady, Noble.
Blackburn: Robinson, Lowe, Samba, Dann, Givet, Salgado, Dunn, Pedersen, Vukcevic, Formica, Yakubu.
Subs: Bunn, Olsson, Blackman, Goodwillie, Roberts, Hanley, Henley.
Interesting pre-match stat: 10 minutes to go before kick-off and I thought it worth pointing out that Sunderland have won three and lost none of their last six league matches against Blackburn.
Also... The last time Blackburn had fewer points after 14 games was in the 1998-99 season, when they ended up getting relegated.
Interesting to see Titus Bramble back in the Sunderland team following a club suspension for things it's probably best not to get into at the moment. David Vaughan also in midfield for the suspended Lee Cattermole, which should give the hosts more creativity.
Blackburn make two changes to the side that beat Swansea, with Michel Salgado and Simon Vukcevic coming in for Ruben Rochina and David Hoilett
Martin O'Neill given a rousing reception as he steps into the Wearside dugout on what looks like a cold and dull day in Wearside.
Sunderland get the match underway, kicking left to right as I see it on the telly.
Free-kick for Sunderland by their own touchline following a foul by Yakubu on Wes Brown. Westwood takes it and from the kick up field, Sunderland have a free-kick on the edge of Blackburn's area after Salgado blocks Richardson's cross with his arm
Larsson swings the free-kick in with his right foot, it's eventually cleared by Dann for a Sunderland throw-in on the right-hand side. The hosts keep the pressure up and from Sessegnon's cross, Coldback has a shot from the edge of the area that Robinson saves for a corner that leads to nothing. Good early pressure from the hosts. Blackburn struggling to get into this game.
Sunderland's tactics are clear. Press high and keep Blackburn pinned in. Their latest attack led to another cross into the area, from right to left, that ends with Bardsley slicing a shot over the bar.
Oh Sunderland go close. Sessegnon drives past Givet into the Blackburn area, cuts the ball back to Larsson who lifts a cross towards the back post that was begging for some one to come in with a full-blown header. No one did though.
Blackburn finally have a breather form all the Sunderland pressure but only because Salgado has taken one in the ribs from Bardsley. In fairness, both players were going up for a header and the Spaniard came worse off. He looks in a bit of trouble but should be fine. On his feet now.
Blackburn finally string a few passes together in the Sunderland half but the hosts are able to relieve the pressure easily following a wayward cross by Dunn towards Formica on the right-wjng.
Blimey, Vukcevic has got an incredible mask on. As Alan Smith rightly points out, it could be deemed an offensive weapon given how pointy the nose bit is.
Penalty shout for Blackburn, and it's a strong one. Yakubu charges past Bramble down the left-edge of the area and hits the deck following a lunging tackle from the defender. The referee Peter Walton turns his back on it but replays show Bramble may have tripped Yakubu over as he poked the ball away from him.
This time Walton does give Blackburn something as Colback blocks Formica off on the halfway line. Robinson punts the ball deep inside the Sunderland area and Westwood does well to grab the ball under some pressure.
O'Neill on his feet, no trademark waving of arms as yet but this match is still young.
Another free-kick for Blackburn as Larsson goes in low and hard on Yakubu. The visitors have definitely weathered an early storm here and are very much in this contest now.
GOAL FOR BLACKBURN! Samba picks the ball up on the edge of the area from Pedersen's free-kick and lifts the ball into the area where Vukcevic is unmarked and able to head past Westwood from close-range.
Oh Sunderland should have equalised! Sessegnon whips a low cross in from the right wing, Lowe completely misses the ball and Richardson is able to shoot from close-range. But Robinson makes a great reaction save. Still Sunderland 0-1 Blackburn.
Richardson goes close again! Larsson's cross comes off Lowe's face, drops for the winger and his shot is deflected away for a corner. Sunderland reacting well to going behind.
Richardson takes the corner from the right-hand side, the ball is cleared though. Meanwhile, Givet has been replaced by Olsson. The defender has an injury, not sure what, though.
Yakubu appeals for another penalty after stumbling over Bramble's legs. Nothing given again, although this time that looks like the right decision. On the subject of the Yak, this from Daniel Montefusco:
"It's been impossible to avoid the weight jibes aimed at Yakubu. I'm no expert, but I can see. John Candy was fat. Botham carried an extra blubber ring or two under those expandable polyester sports slacks. But occular limitations aside, this Blackburn goal machine is merely thickset". Discuss.
Good tackle from Samba to stop the impressive Sessegnon running into goal. He is definitely Sunderland's main threat. For Blackburn, Yakubu is the obvious source of threat and they are looking to get the ball to him as soon as possible. In return, the striker is causing Bramble and Brown, the two Sunderland central defenders, some real problems. I can definitely see him scoring here. In that regard, it should be pointed out that Blackburn have not failed to score away from home this season.
It's gone very quiet at the Stadium of Light. The hosts have had lots of the ball, some very good chances and are still playing well, but Blackburn starting to dominate possession here. The hosts needs to press them back as they were doing in the openiing minutes.
Chance for Sunderland and no shock that Sessegnon is again at the heart of the attack. He goes past Dann on the right-hand edge of the area, cuts the ball into the area and after a bit of a scramble, the ball returns to the winger whose resulting shot is well wide of the far post. Decent pressure, though, from O'Neill's boys.
Sunderland crank up the pressure again and it leads to David Vaughan driving across the area and lashing a shot over the bar. Note Sunderland: Blackburn have not kept a clean sheet this season.
Sunderland starting to press Blackburn back again and that has led to the up-to-now-ineffective Connor Wickham making a nuisance of himself.
Foul by Dann on Colback as the midfielder looks to break into the Blackburn area. From the resulting free-kick, Sunderland once again pile pressure on the visitors. O'Shea's cross leads to a corner on the far side that is taken by Larsson and again there is a scramble inside the Blackburn area. The men in blue and white eventually clear the danger and, eventually, Lowe is able to drive a cross into the area which Westwood saves at his near post. Excuse the cliche, but its end-to-end stuff at the moment.
First booking of the match and it's gone to O'Shea for a cyncical pull on Vukcevic. Leads to free-kick in almost exactly same position from where Pedersen constructed the only goal of this game so far. This time, however, it only leads to Dunn being penalised for a handball on the edge of the Sunderland area.
This startling news from Sky: Givet went off because of a long-standing heart problem that sees the 30-year-old's heart rate shoot up unexpectedly. Excuse my lack of medical insight, but that sounds pretty damn serious doesn't it?
Ooh, Sunderland lucky not to be 2-0 down. Pedersen's free-kick beats the outrushing Westwood and is headed in at the back post by Dann. The referee disallows the goal, however, on the grounds that Samba backed into the Sunderland goalkeeper. It was more of a case, though, of Westwood charging into the defender.
Blackburn ending this half on top, keeping the ball pretty well and forcing Sunderland to drop back inside their own area. Foul given, though, for a a foul by Salgado on Bardsley. The former Real Madrid man is booked.
Three minutes of added time to be played at the end of this first-half.
HT: Sunderland 0-1 Blackburn. It's not going as well as Martin O'Neill would have hoped, then. His side started well, exerting pressure on Blackburn and forcing their defenders to clear a number of testing crosses. The visitors soon got into the match, however, and having had a decent penalty appeal turned down, took the lead through Simon Vukcevic's 17th minute header – his first Premier League goal - after Sunderland poorly defended Pedersen's free-kick. Richardson should have equalised for Sunderland immediately but his close-range shot was well saved by Robinson.
Slightly remarkably, the Sunderland fans booed their team off. The hosts have done ok and it's hardly going to help their clearly fragile confidence if they're getting abuse from the stands. Wonder what Martin makes of it all...
This to stew over from Michael Hunt during the half-time break:
"Re your suggestion that O'Neill has a job on his hands, I would have to disagree completely. Surely he's in the incredibly enviable position of inheriting a club who already love him for a) Not being Steve Bruce, b) being a Sunderland fan and c) being Martin O'Neill. The club itself has a huge fan-base, good cash behind it, and has all that Premiership money coming in. He has got a collection of moderate to really rather good players (and John O'Shea) who with a little bit of management should clearly be performing much better than they are. All he realistically has to achieve this season is to nudge the team higher than the 18th place they currently occupy, which, given the circumstances, should be ludicrously easy. Non?"
Fair point(s) perhaps....
Apologies folks; gremlins in the Guardian towers means I've been unable to update this MBM for a few minutes. To fill you in, we're seven minutes into the second-half, nothing of note has happened except Blackburn making two changes: Henley coming on for Olsson (yes, that's right, a sub has been subbed) and Hanley coming on for Salgado.
So now we have Henley, Hanley, Dunn and Dann on the pitch for Blackburn. Cheers Steve Kean, that makes my job a whole lot easier.
And on the subject of fat footballers:
Gary Naylor: "Towards the end of his career, Matthew Le Tissier was fat (he isn't now curiously) but he could still play. Neville Southall too."
Ryan Dunne: "As 17 stones and a bit of lovin' myself, I know that most of the 'big-bone' excuses are, well, exactly that. But come on, footballers are professional athletes! Supposedly 'fat' Frank Lampard had (not sure if he's the current record holder) the lowest body-fat percentage of any footballer at Chelsea, whereas Yakubu, like the great Ronaldo, could live on lettuce and slim fast shakes and still have an overall physique that is far closer to stocky than skinny. Of course, some players do just overindulge too much."
My favourite fat footballer? Has to Jan Molby.
Sunderland are pinning Blackburn in similar style to how they started this match with their back-four lined up almost on the halfway line. Blackburn cannot get out at the moment.
Blackburn able to ease some of the pressure as Wickham is penalised for a foul on Vukcevic by the far touchline. Robinson drives the free-kick towards Samba inside the Sunderland area. Bramble clears the danger but at the ball lands in the centre-circle, Blackburn are given another free-kick for Sessegnon's mid-air foul on Dunn. The winger is booked by the referee.
Dunn drives a shot from outside the area just over the bar. The chance came after Sunderland had only partially cleared Blackburn's free-kick. The vistors now starting to find their feet in this second half, the game following a familiar pattern.
Sunderland have a free-kick on left edge of Blackburn's area after Hanley's foul on Sessegnon. Larsson to take...
Having had a cheekly little chat with O'Shea, Larsson lifts the free-kick towards the back post. Samba clears the ball, it eventually comes out to Richardson whose shot takes a deflection and appears to be going in until Robinson makes another great reaction save to tip the ball over for a corner.
The crowd has found their voice following that spell of Sunderland pressure. Blackburn have retreated into their own half, not one of their players in the Sunderland half as the hosts push the ball towards each flank in search of an equaliser.
Blackburn look content here to sit back, soak up Sunderland's pressure and hit on the break. A potentially dangerous ploy, seen just now as Wickham comes close to connecting with Richardson's dropped ball and having a strike on goal.
Cross by Larsson from right-wing is cleared by Dann. Comes out to Vaughan who drives yet another Sunderland cross into the area. That is cleared too and Dunn is able to put the ball into enemy territory. But with no one there, Sunderland easily regain possession. Surely the hosts cannot keep going like this...
...Indeed Robinson has just told his team to push up.
Sunderland are well and truly pinning Blackburn back here. It looks like a training game now; defence v attack. Corner for the hosts from Colback's low drive. Vaughan drifts it towards the back post. Larsson plays it shot to Bardsley, whose cross is cleared.
This entire match is being played in the Blackburn half now. Yakubu is hovering by the halfway line while every other man in blue and white is behind the ball. Sunderland looking to open them up by getting the ball wide and putting crosses in. The latest from O'Shea drifts wide of the far post.
Meanwhile, this from northern soul monkey Alex Adams on the subject of fat footballers:
"my favourite fat footballer is Tomas Brolin. Can anyone put together a portly Scandinavian XI?"
We have two (Molby and Brolin). Just nine to go...
And this from an irate Dr Manoj Joseph:
"I humbly request you to retract that statement in which you proclaimed me a Steve Kean fan when I certainly am not. No sane follower of football would be caught dead saying that they are fans of Steve Kean. Well the Venky's would say so but their sanity is clearly questionable. I therefore ask you to post that 'Dr.Manoj Joseph has not been and in all probability will never be a fan of Steve Kean'. My honour demands no less".
O'Neill makes two changes:
McClean for Colback, Ji for Wickham.
And McLean, the young Northern Irish winger who was signe in the summer from Derry City, has an immediate impact with an excellent left-wing cross that is nearly converted at the far post by Sessegnon. He drives another cross in moments later that Robinson has to dive low to collect at his near post.
It's still defence v attack at the Stadium of Light with Blackburn stationing eight players inside their own area as Sessegnon hits an overhead kick that goes just over the bar. Stats show Sunderland have now had 16 attempts on goal to Blackburn's three. The words "door" and "knocking" come to mind.
Samba has been immense today, clearing almost everything that has been swung in towards him by Sunderland's cross-happy players. He clears another cross by Larsson from the right-wing.
Meanwhile, another left-wing cross from the lively McLean is blocked by Hanley for a corner. Larsson takes the set-piece and Blackburn again clear the danger.
Sunderland running out of time here. They have dominated the second-half as Blackburn have fully retreated inside their own half, but for all their possession and crosses, the visitors have defended well. Question is, can they hang on?
NO THEY CAN'T, SUNDERLAND ARE LEVEL!!! Henley's clearing header comes out to the edge of the area where Vaughan is waiting to strike a lovely left-footed volley that whistles past Robinson. The keeper had no chance and Sunderland are back in this.
It's rocking now at the Stadium of Light and Richardson goes close again with a strike from the edge of the area. Only one winner in this now.
Not surprisingly, Blackburn are now venturing into the Sunderland half of the pitch. The hosts are determined to pin them back however with their defence pushing up to the halfway line.
Corner for Sunderland as the excellent Samba gets a crucial header on Larsson's cross. Ji was waiting to pounce.
Samba stops Ji in their tracks and gets the ball back to Robinson. The Blackburn defender has been awesome and is rightly named as Sky's man of the match.
Three mins of added time.
Free-kick for Sunderland on edge of area as Formica uses his hands to block a ball out wide. Larsson over the ball....
GOAL FOR SUNDERLAND!!!!!!
Larsson, stationed on the left-edge of the area, curls the free-kick towards the near post and it is a beauty as the ball clips the post and sweeps in to the net.
Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn
Stadium of Light rocking, Martin O'Neill pacing the touchline. He know's it's going to be a great debut for him after all. Sunderland, in fairness, deserve this for thier utter dominance of the second-half and their constant pressure. Blackburn have paid for trying to hold a 1-0 lead.
The misery keeps coming for Steve Kean and Blackburn as Lowe requires treatment on the turf after a collision with Larsson. He looks in some trouble. Oh and Samba got booked for saying something to the referee immediately after Larsson's goal.
Givet, Olsson, Salgado and Lowe all injured in this game for Blackburn. Kean looks utterly deflated, as do the small band of travelling fans. So much so, in fact, that they can't even find the energy to boo their manager.
Yes, that's right, 99 minutes have now bene played here. The time is so Lowe can be treated. He is lifted on to a stretcher having been given oxygen and is applauded of the pitch.
Sunderland fans applauded having sung "you're getting sacked in the morning" in the direction of Kean.
FT: Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn
FT: Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn
An incredible finish to Martin O'Neill's first match in charge of Sunderland. His team look set to be heading for a third defeat in succession following Simon Vukcevic's 17th minute header, but having utterly dominated the second-half as Blackburn fully retreated into their half and looked to hold what they had, the hosts eventually got what their pressure deserved.
David Vaughan struck on 84 minutes with a wonderful left-foot volley from the edge of the area before Sebastian Larsson sealed the win with a precise free-kick in added time.
Another miserable day, then, for Blackburn and their beleagured manager Steve Kean. They played well in the first-half, passing the ball well and creating danger in and around the Sunderland area but ultimately paid the price for an ultra-defensive approach after the interval. Playing with 11 players in your own half was always going to be a risky strategy for a side that has not kept a clean sheet all season.
To add to Kean's woes, four Blackburn players picked up injuries here; Givet, Olsson, Salgado and, most seriously, Lowe.
Sunderland will not care about that, though. This win, only their third at home this year, sees them climb out of the relegation zone. O'Neill's jump for joy at the end said it all. What a start for the new manager.