Sunderland 2 Blues 0 .. Match Report

Last updated : 30 January 2008 By Richard Barker
Goals from Daryl Murphy and Rade Prica condemned Blues to a damaging defeat.

Alex McLeish made one change to the starting line-up, with James McFadden coming in for his full debut alongside Cameron Jerome up front. Garry O'Connor dropped to an attacking bench, on which he shared splinters with Mikael Forssell and new signing Mauro Zarate. This all meant that there was no place in the sixteen for Gary McSheffrey. Who am I going to moan about?? I wonder…

Sunderland, in fairness, have some barely passable Premier League players in Carlos Edwards, Kieran Richardson, Michael Chopra, Danny Higginbotham, Ross Wallace and Grant Leadbitter. None of them were available though, meaning Blues were up against probably the weakest team Sunderland will put out all season (ok, ok, Kenwyne Jones and Dean Whitehead are ok). Any team with someone called Roy O'Donovan on the bench should be there for the taking. He should be presenting family quiz shows on ITV at 5.35pm on a Saturday, not playing in the Premier League.

This was a very, very big game for both sides, and Sunderland showed it, by starting off at quite a pace. They were on top, but weren't really hurting Blues and looked devoid of invention. However, when you're up against Blues' defence, you don't necessarily need invention to make a breakthrough - sometimes Blues will do it for you.

There's certain facts that everyone knows about certain players, simply because the media never stop mentioning it. Bigstevie Howard, now of Leicester, is a life long Newcastle United fan - everyone knows that. Michael Boulding used to be a professional tennis player - again, everyone knows that. Ryan Giggs represented England at schoolboy level - everyone knows that. Well, something else everyone knows is that Maik Taylor used to be in the army.

Presumably Taylor left the army, because a prerequisite for the whole war, fighting, killing type stuff that the army get up to is a bit of bravery. I wouldn't have though Taylor was ever really commended for his bravery during his service. (I did hear that he was to be awarded the George Cross, but he failed to collect it…)

Well, after a couple of decent-ish performances, Taylor reverted to type, as he always does. So often he's dropped, and upon his return to the team, he puts in three decent performances and then reverts to being hopeless. Alternatively, he'll be under pressure, put in a couple of decent performances, then revert to dross for fifteen games. Sunderland's first goal was softer than a big pile of cotton wool. From a free-kick, Jones (who had about a foot height advantage over the whole Blues defence) looped a tame header towards Taylor. Rafael Schmitz (who along with Liam Ridgewell, hardly covered himself in glory over the evening) left it to Taylor, which, given that the ball was approximately a yard from Taylor's goal-line, seemed reasonable enough. Taylor, who must have feared serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, was clearly terrified by Premier League hotshot Daryl Murphy, froze on his line, and Murphy prodded the ball home.

From being efficient, but barely threatening, suddenly Sunderland raised their game and the crowd lifted and Blues were up against it. Cameron Jerome subsequently had the best chance of the first half, but passed the ball at Craig Gordon's legs, rather then finishing properly or playing in McFadden or Olivier Kapo.

The second half was much the same, with Sunderland having more of the ball but again, not really hurting Blues. Not really hurting Blues, until Blues helped them out again, I may add. Some desperately sloppy Blues play led to Ridgewell nodding the ball back towards Taylor. The header was short, Taylor was caught out, and Prica clipped the ball into an empty net. Game over.

Blues barely tried to get themselves back into the game, although every cloud has a silver lining, and Zarate came on to transform Blues into a one-man team for the last 20 minutes. He looked bright, sharp and aggressive and consequently his hopeless team-mates insisted on passing to him every time they had the ball and expecting him to get them back into the game on his own. As Blues "threw men forward" (I use quotation marks because that's not exactly what happened, it was all so haphazard) in the final few minutes, Sunderland finally opened Blues up a few times and Taylor was forced into a save, but that was that.

Don't let the above give the impression that I didn't think Sunderland deserved their win, because they clearly did. I didn't think much of them, but they were far superior to Blues. That's the problem though - Blues were up against a weak team who, until the last few minutes, barely created a chance, and yet Blues handed them a comfortable 2-0 lead. Off the top of my head, in the first 80 minutes, Gordon's "save" from Jerome was the only save either 'keeper had to make, yet Blues were 2-0 down. The Blues defence were hopeless, to a man - even the normally reliable Stephen Kelly. Damien Johnson and Fabrice Muamba battled well in midfield, as they always will, but weren't helped by the hopelessness of those behind them. Seb Larsson was anonymous and Kapo struggled to make an impact (although the mental person I overheard at half-time suggesting he should be dragged off was way off the mark - it may not have appeared on Sky, but Kapo was the only one trying to inject any urgency into Blues' play. He kept trying to take quick throw-ins, only to be let down by his team-mates, and was even playing ballboy on occasions when Blues had a corner.) Up front, Jerome was poor and McFadden, whilst he was deprived of any real service, needs to do a little more for a £6m player. As I say, Zarate was the one shining light.

There's two days until the transfer window closes, and ideally, Blues need to sign about eight players. I'll take a centre half (or two) and a midfielder in reality though, but they are desperate for those - certainly a centre half. Someone over 6 foot would be a start, perhaps with a right foot too. It might be asking for too much, but someone who's consistently "quite good" would be nice, rather than totally error prone.

This was a big defeat for Blues, gifted to a team we're battling at the foot of the table. Quite simply, it was nowhere near good enough. Failing to beat Derby County on Saturday is unthinkable.