By Ryan Fleming
When Darren Bent rifled the game-tying goal past Arsenal goalkeeper, Manuel Almunia, on Saturday, Sunderland sent a statement to the league – we’re here to fight, so be prepared.
The Black Cats, which have only lost twice at the Stadium of Light in the last nine months, pulled off another upset in this new season, frustrating the Gunners and manager, Arsene Wenger, out of two all-important points. Following the second-half sendoff of Alex Song, 10 minutes after the break, the Gunners were totally outplayed and outworked.
Despite their 1-0 lead, the North London side scored on a fluke, once-in-a-lifetime sort of play. Sunderland defender Anton Ferdinand’s clearance was blocked by Cesc Fabregas, which drifted over goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and into the net.
Looking past their luck, the Gunners had their chances, too. After being subbed for the injured Fabregas in the 29th minute Tomas Rosicky sailed a penalty kick high over the bar into the stands with a roar of delight to the Sunderland fans trailing closely behind it.
New signing and World Cup star Asamoah Gyan entered in the 64th minute, adding another offensive threat for Sunderland – one of its weakest areas all game.
Sunderland winger Ahmed Elmohamady owned the right flank throughout the match, consistently sending in volleys and crosses, that were seemingly bound for a teammate’s head. In the eighth, Cristian Riveros almost met one of those sailing crosses, but backside pressure from Bacary Sagna led to a failed attempt from Riveros.
It wasn’t until the fifth minute of extra time when Bent equalized. Despite the call for only four minutes of extra play, Gael Clichy’s clearance attempt landed in Bent’s area, eventually being smashed home by the England international.
This wasn’t the first time this year that Sunderland sent the favorite home with thoughts of what should have been. On Aug. 29, thanks to Bent once again, Manchester City left the Stadium of Light 1-0 losers accompanied with gloomy afterthoughts, when Bent scored from the spot deep into injury.
Results like this shouldn’t surprise many, though. With the addition of Gyan up front, Bent will slowly feel the pressure being relieved from his shoulders, as he was the only established forward for the Black Cats. Yes, Gyan’s numbers aren’t world class, but after the World Cup earlier this year, Gyan now forces opposing managers to address his presence.
Still ,though, with quality defense, reliable goalkeeping and an uncontested work ethic, Sunderland could spark more surprises. In time, upsets might become the norm to a team trapped in the middle of the table, behind the Premier League’s giants and their hordes of money.
Ryan Fleming is an editor and a contributing writer for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.