Writer: Johnny Baguette
Date:Friday March 20 2009
Comments courtesy of Manchester City Football Club
First of all, I would like to extend a warm welcome to everyone connected to Sunderland who has made the journey over from the north-east for today's Barclays Premier League game.
Our European adventure took some more dramatic twists and turns on Thursday night, and the team and all the staff want to thank every one of our amazing supporters who travelled to Denmark again and who went through the wringer.
I was delighted that the time, effort and money that people have spent following us all over the continent were rewarded with our progression into the quarter finals. The two late goals we conceded were real hammer blows, but we showed some guts to get through to the penalty shoot out.
All our penalty takers held their nerve under incredible pressure, and Shay's two saves were out of the top drawer in the circumstances. He had to gather himself together after Nomvethe's cheeky chip - Shay was ready to chase after him! But having Shay between the sticks gave the lads a lot of confidence, and repaid that in full. The draw for the next round will be made after this programme goes to press, but whoever we get, I hope that lots of you will be our '12th' man, as you have been all season, when the time comes.
But for a lapse in concentration, we might not have gone into today's game on the back of a defeat at Stamford Bridge. However, that little moment against Chelsea that allowed Michael Essien to get a shot in and score taught us a harsh lesson about having to be at your very best when playing top sides like that. I think some of our players looked a little battle-fatigued having had a hard game against Aalborg on the previous Thursday, and we faced a Chelsea side that were at virtually full-strength for the first time in a while. We put in a good shift defensively after conceding the goal, and I thought that Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha were outstanding against a world-class strike force.
Nedum's run in the side is one of the success stories of the season so far, and he thoroughly deserves the plaudits that are starting to go in his direction. I was aware of how his career had been a bit stop-start because of injuries before I came here, but having shaken off a couple of niggles earlier this term we are now seeing his promise begin to come to fruition. He has benefitted from a couple of positional changes that we made a while ago, and I think he is at his best in central defence although he remains an option at right-back if needed. He's confident on the ball, and I think that he has learned a lot from lining up alongside Dunnie, who has been in outstanding form since coming back from suspension.
It's been a demanding season since we started in the Faroes back in mid-July, so it's inevitable that the squad is showing a bit of wear and tear. Martin Petrov will not need another operation on his knee injury, and he is aiming for a return to action before the end of the season. That's also the case with Michael Johnson, but we will have to monitor his situation. It has been an incredibly frustrating time for Michael, but I think that with both him and Martin that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
In Ricky Sbragia, today's visitors have a manager who may not be a household name, but he is real football man and is rightly respected throughout the game. Ricky has steadied the ship at the Stadium of Light since he took over there, and I do not think that our win there in August will have much bearing today. Sunderland are looking to climb away from the wrong end of the table, while we have a chance of getting into the European places if we can out a run together in the league, so it should be an exciting tussle.
Commiserations to the Under 18 side after their narrow defeat to Arsenal in the first leg of the Youth Cup semi final. It was a close match between two very evenly-matched sides, and it's still all to play for in the second leg at the Emirates next month.
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Date:Friday March 20 2009
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