Season Review: September

by Stuart Vose

Black Cats remain unbeaten.

September was a busy month for Sunderland, featuring four Barclays Premier League games plus a tough trip to MK Dons in the Capital One Cup.

Latest signing Danny Rose travelled to South Wales with the squad for the month's first game, against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium.

And it was to be two draws in two games for the Black Cats, who twice led in a topsy-turvy clash only to be pegged back both times.

Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher both made their league debuts, and the latter got off to a dream start by opening the scoring when he capitalised on an error by Ashley Williams to curl the ball beyond Michel Vorm.

Wayne Routledge quickly powered Swansea level from close range, but Fletcher popped up again just before the break, tapping home Seb Larsson's free-kick unmarked at the back post.

City upped the ante again in the second half and bargain signing Michu headed the hosts level before Chico Flores saw red for a high boot on Louis Saha.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, Swansea launched a late push for the points with Angel Rangel, Danny Graham - who would later join Sunderland - and Nathan Dyer all seeing efforts saved by Simon Mignolet.

“I'm delighted with the two goals and the fact that I've got some more minutes under my belt,” Fletcher said afterwards.

“Swansea is a tough place to come and they play the ball about brilliantly.

“Sometimes you have to sit off them and let them do what they do, then press at the right time.

“I'm still working on my fitness and getting fully fit; hopefully I can be after the [international] break. It was a good, solid run-out today which will help me.”

Liverpool were next up at the Stadium of Light as Fletcher struck again to maintain his side’s unbeaten start to the season.

The game was Sunderland’s first home league outing of the season and the Black Cats gave a good account of themselves against Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Liverpool had the better of the early chances but it was Sunderland who went ahead on the half-hour when Craig Gardner made good progress down the right and Fletcher, attacking the near post, slid the midfielder’s cross past Pepe Reina.

The away side levelled 19 minutes from time when a cross into the box bobbled off the unlucky Titus Bramble and landed at the feet of Luis Suarez, who made no mistake.

Sub Louis Saha almost sealed what would have been a memorable victory late on, turning beautifully beyond his marker but crashing a powerful shot inches wide.

The match saw recent signing Rose make his debut and manager Martin O’Neill backed the new boy after the game.

“Danny was getting tired as the game went on and he came off with a little bit of a groin strain,” he said.

“He’s played for the [England] under-21s but those games don’t have the same tempo as Barclays Premier League games, week in, week out.

“The run-out will have done him the world of good. I thought he did fine up against some very good players in the Liverpool side.

“Over the course of the season I think he’ll do well for us.”

Rose was back in the line-up for the trip to West Ham, where Sunderland were denied a first league win of the season by a last-gasp goal.

Fletcher – proving a revelation up front – scored yet again, finding the net yet again after just five minutes as he sneaked behind James Collins to ram home Seb Larsson’s clever cross.

The Hammers responded but struggled to open up the Sunderland defence, with keeper Simon Mignolet in good form when the London club did manage to get a sight of goal.

The Belgian produced one of the saves of the season to deny Kevin Nolan, springing left to tip away the midfielder’s overhead kick from point blank range.

However, Nolan did eventually break through in injury time when he hooked home in a goalmouth scramble to secure a point and leave Sunderland desperately disappointed.

Speaking post-match, defender Bramble described the game as a “battle” and felt his side were punished for not killing the game off.

“Their late equaliser was a massive disappointment,” he added. “We had loads of chances to put the game to bed when we were 1-0 up.

“We knew what West Ham were all about  and we had a game plan – it’s just a shame we couldn’t kill the game off.

“There were lots of high balls, as you would expect with West Ham but that’s what I’m here to do – me and Sheasy [John O’Shea] – to go for those balls, and that was meat and drink for us today."

The result left Sunderland 12th in the Barclays Premier League with four draws from their opening four games.

At the top, Chelsea were making the early running with four wins and a draw from their opening five fixtures, with eventual champions Manchester United back in fifth place.

A trip to League One side MK Dons in the Capital One Cup represented a different challenge for Sunderland, who were backed by around 2,500 fans at stadium:MK despite horrendous driving conditions and flooding on the day of the game.

Those visiting supporters were rewarded with a solid performance and a 2-0 win, but O’Neill’s side had to work hard to secure safe passage to the next round.

They ground out the result despite losing Lee Cattermole to a straight red card for a foul on Adam Chicksen on the half-hour. The dismissal earned the skipper a three-match ban.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, Sunderland held firm and took the lead with a strike of real quality nine minutes into the second half.

Gardner’s first goal of the season was one to savour – a swerving free-kick from 25 yards which arrowed into the top corner.

James McClean secured victory when he rifled home David Vaughan’s cross, but all the post-match talk was centred on Gardner’s glorious strike.

“It’s a big pitch and MK Dons keep the ball very well, however [Craig] Gardner’s goal in the second half was the turning point for us,” manager O’Neill said.

“It was a great goal from the free kick and we went on to defend stoutly to win the game.”

And the Black Cats rounded out September with a first league win of the campaign to maintain a mid-table position.

That man Fletcher was on the mark again to see off a Wigan side who felt aggrieved after the game having seen Jordi Gomez sent off five minutes into the second half.

Fletcher netted his fifth goal in as many games just moments later, guiding the ball deftly beyond Ali Al-Habsi after McClean’s deflected effort dropped into his path.

However, the outcome could have been different but for goalkeeper Mignolet, who had produced a truly memorable save to deny Arouna Kone at close quarters during the first half.

Buoyed by their goal, Sunderland had the better of the second period and almost doubled their money when Stephane Sessegnon, storming into box, was inches away from prodding home another McClean cross.

Five goals during September saw Fletcher named the Barclays Player of the Month, and the striker was in typically modest mood after the game.

Recalling his goal, he said: “I got myself on the back stick, the ball bounced to me and I put it in.

“I’m taking each game as it comes. I know I’m going to get chances with James [McClean] and the rest of the team we have.

“I’ll keep trying to get on the end of them and hopefully keep getting the goals.”