There’s something almost mystical about the energy and new manager brings to a club that have been struggling isn’t there?
It’s like there’s this psychic energy around the place that seems to infect everyone and subconsciously raises the spirits of each and every person involved with the organisation. It’s so mysterious, so indefinable.
Or else it’s a load of sulky Premier League players realising they can’t afford to be sulky in front of a new manager because he will turf them out of the club at the earliest point their big juicy contract permits.
Martin O’Neill was hoping to sprinkle some of this wondrous brand of managerial pixie dust on Sunderland’s flagging fortunes and Blackburn at home is a great way to begin your campaign to convince everyone you’re some sort of miracle-worker and not just a half-decent manager who’s articulate enough to convince people the main attribute responsible for his success isn’t the regular opening of a cheque-book. Here’s how a relegation battle that promised so little, mainly delivered so little before delivering a good bit towards the end:
Pre-match: Subscribing to the new manager magical uplift/players not wanting to get fire theory. Sunderland are priced up as the hot favourites to start the O’Neill era with a win. No doubt some of that is down to the belief the Derryman is a management genius, but also some of it is down to Blackburn being a bit crap. The Black Cats are 8/11 to win, Rovers are 10/3 and the draw is 5/2.
20 mins: It’s a pretty uninspiring start to the game as Sunderland showcase the lack of end product that consigned Steve Bruce to the job centre. The inefficiency in front of goal is punished when, mounting their first meaningful attack of the game, Blackburn score. A pretty crap cross goes all the way through to Christopher Samba who – aided by a couple of Sunderland defenders just standing there and watching him – finds a yard or two of space and lashes a shot at goal which Kieran Westwood both saves and puts perfectly on the head of Simon Vukcevic. Richardson has a great chance for a quick fire equaliser, but with just Paul Robinson to beat, puts it in pretty much the only place the keeper than get it. The hosts are 23/10 to get the O’Neill era off to a winning start, Blackburn are 11/10 to keep the Kean era going another week with the stalemate 15/8.
Half Time: It fairness, the Black Cats are playing some nice football, but their tactic of running around like headless chickens in the penalty area is undermining the efforts of a hard-working midfield. Sunderland are 10/3 to win, the draw is 15/8 and Rovers are the 5/6 favourite – pretty much the only time in his life Steve Kean can claim to be anyone’s favourite.
70 mins: The theme of the first half continues in the second Sebastian Larsson has a decent attempt from a dead ball that goes close, but not close enough for a patented Martin O’Neill ‘leap of frustration’. Don’t worry Blackburn fans, Larsson finding his range is highly unlikely to come back and bite you in the ass later in the game. Paul Robinson pulls of a top class save to stop a deflected shot from Richardson and with the game in the final quarter, Sunderland are 15/2, Blackburn are 1/2 and the draw is 21/10.
80 mins: Ten minutes plus stoppage time to go and Steve Kean can almost smell another week of employment. Sunderland are 14/1 for the win, the draw is 11/4 and Blackburn are 1/4 to hold on to all three points.
85 Mins: GOAL! Sunderland equalise through a Vaughan welly at goal from distance. Despite having a stormer of a game, Paul Robinson decides to watch it into the back of his net when a dive would have got him in the general region of the ball. Martin O’Neill is like a jack-in-the-box on the touchline and we’re in for a hectic final few minutes with Sunderland just 7/2, Blackburn 9/1 to get the win they’ve had swiped out of their hands and the draw looking a certainty at 1/4.
90 mins: The game ticks in to added time and it’s about time for our traders to pull the plug with Sunderland 9/2, Blackburn 17/1 and the draw 1/9. Just as it looks like the games going to finish in a stalemate everyone’s going to be just about happy with, Mauro Formica decides to attempt a header using mainly his hands giving Sebastian Larsson a great chance to improve on his earlier effort. Blackburn’s amazing crumbling wall helps as he bends the ball low into the corner, sending O’Neill into frenzy of ecstatic leaping and Steve Kean on a trip to India where he’ll need to perfect ‘I need more time’ in the local dialect.