Sunderland AFC 1 (Bellingham)
Leeds United 0
12th December, 2023, EFL Championship.
Disappointing. That’s the only word for it really. There wasn’t much between these two sides, either on the balance of play or the match statistics; it should have been a draw and neither side could have complained if it had ended that way. As it is, we will look back on it as another point that got away.
Neither side played that well to be honest – both sides were guilty of squandering decent openings and both sides were very ‘untidy’ with the ball, a phrase Daniel Farke used a couple of times after the game when describing Leeds. “In recent weeks we have created so many chances and scored so many goals, but today I felt when it came to that situation to play the final pass and be there in the decisive moment, we weren't tidy, we weren't sharp enough, there was the wrong decision… It was just one of those days where we didn't find that tidiness or sharpness." And that pretty much summed it up from a Leeds perspective.
Perhaps the two most ‘untidy’ players, the two who frequently allowed the ball to get away, lost possession or played a poor pass, were Glen Kamara and Georginio Rutter. In fact the performance from Georgi was reminiscent of many he put in last season, a period when we wondered what on earth he was all about! Since then of course he’s often been sensational, but last night was poor from him.
I daresay the conditions didn’t help either side; the pitch looked heavy and it seemed to be cutting up easily, hardly surprising considering the amount of rain that had fallen in the North East over the preceding few days. There was a strong wind blowing across the pitch too. And don’t underestimate the fact that Sunderland made several changes to their line up from their weekend win; we made just the one enforced change with Djed Spence replacing the injured Sam Byram. Perhaps the Black Cats were just a bit fresher than we were on a heavy pitch.
In the first half Leeds’ best effort came in the first few minutes when a Summerville free-kick on the left was curled towards the top right corner and the keeper just finger-tipped it over the bar. Cree would have another couple of such free-kicks but those he wasted, by blasting them way over the bar. At the other end, Sunderland had a very similar free-kick that Illan Meslier had to block as it came through a crowd of players and then Pascal Struijk hacked it away while, from one of several corners, Leeds showed their frailty in those situations leaving a man free to head at goal but Meslier again dived full length to push that one away. Jack Clarke, a lad we once thought was going to be the next Leeds United superstar, was the stand out player in that first half, constantly tormenting Archie Gray who eventually hampered his own efforts by getting a yellow card. Funnily enough, after that Archie seemed to deal with Clarke much more comfortably despite having to be more ‘careful’.
In the second half, Leeds were a bit better in possession and had plenty of it but defensively we looked nervous, not powerful enough. The writing was on the wall when, in one period of Sunderland pressure, we failed to get the ball away cleanly no less than three times, weak headers going no distance at all and eventually we needed another Meslier save to end that threat.
Both sides turned to their benches to try to wrest the initiative and Sunderland’s changes seemed to work better for them. It wasn’t long before the decisive moment of the game and it was all down to Leeds failing again to make distance with their clearances. A Leeds attack broke down, Sunderland moved the ball out to their right wing and, though our press initially turned them back, they tried again and this time got the ball across. Pascal Struijk headed it away but nowhere near far enough and it found a Sunderland head on the edge of the area. The ball was headed back into the mixer and Jobe Bellingham, brother of the now Real Madrid superstar Jude, reacted far more quickly than either Archie Gray or Meslier to nip and head the ball home on the first bounce in the six-yard area.
Leeds didn’t give up and kept trying to make something happen up front but the closest we got was a toe poke at goal by Joel Piroe that was cleared off the line.
At the end of the day we have to accept that there will be ‘days like this’ – although Ipswich and Leicester don’t seem to be having many of them! We have chances to repair the damage on Saturday with a home game against Coventry and then the final game before Christmas sees us go head to head with the team we need to catch – Ipswich Town. Sunderland are a decent team and there is no shame in going down to them, much as West Brom found at the weekend. But as Farke suggested, had we been a bit more tidy with our overwhelming possession we should at the very least have come away with a point.
Possession 38% 62%
Shots 11 12
On Target 3 4
Corners 6 3
Fouls 12 8