If Steve Bruce had his way, the Premier League would have just embarked on a month‑long "re-energising" break offering jaded players a rest while sparing supporters the pain of sitting outdoors in "perishing" temperatures.
As an advert for a winter sabbatical, Sunderland's mentally fatigued performance today amid temperatures struggling to rise above zero proved compelling. Blackpool, benefiting from a lack of home fixtures because of their frozen Bloomfield Road pitch, weathered a haphazard attacking storm to play the more considered football, with David Vaughan outstanding in central midfield.
Although Sunderland spurned a multitude of scoring chances, few neutrals would begrudge Blackpool a counterattacking victory that concludes an enchanted year for Ian Holloway.
"On another day Sunderland would have had a decent result but I hope they'll be thinking we aren't bad," Blackpool's manager said. "Asamoah Gyan and Darren Bent cost them £23m; our entire squad cost £3m at the most. We deserve some credit. I can't tell you how proud I am. I get so much enjoyment from getting my players to play better than they've ever played in their lives."
Bruce took a radically different view, saying: "We've had about 33 chances and we've absolutely hammered them without scoring. I've never seen anything like it, not even when I was at school."
He had three strikers on the pitch but his attacking equation stubbornly refused to balance. Richard Kingson was required to make a solitary significant first-half save, from a shot struck straight at him by the midfielder Jordan Henderson, as Gyan, Bent and Danny Welbeck displayed sporadically decent attacking movement allied to consistently shocking finishing.
If Craig Gordon seemed relieved to see DJ Campbell spurn two early chances, Kingson watched askance as Bent – off form for three months now – and Gyan directed several excellent openings – many conjured by Welbeck – high and/or wide. On a couple of occasions the visiting keeper was rounded after dashing off his line but still the ball trickled past the posts.
Bent and friends paid for such profligacy when Campbell volleyed the opener following a short corner, Neil Eardley's lofted cross and Ian Evatt's flick-on. Admittedly they had ridden their luck, but Holloway's side sparkled on the break while also supplying some imaginative and incisive passing, with Vaughan exerting increasing influence.
Bruce can appear to prize pace and energy ahead of craft and guile but, albeit belatedly, he introduced Steed Malbranque's creative subtlety. With his clever feet and clear vision, Malbranque swiftly forced Kingson into his most demanding save of the afternoon.
After that Kingson performed wonders to deny Lee Cattermole and Bent, who also hit the bar with a free-kick, before Campbell turned a teasing delivery from Matt Phillips beyond Gordon at the end to ensure Holloway ended 2010 on a high. "It's been an absolute belter," he said. "I'm just sad it's soon going to be 2011."
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