Bolton 1 - 2 Sunderland Report
Sulley Muntari's dramatic winner deep into stoppage time secured Sunderland's Premier League status in an eventful game at the Reebok Stadium. Muntari, who has already been told he is unlikely to be signed permanently in the summer, latched on to an excellent through ball from Stephane Sessegnon and saw his drive take a deflection off Zat Knight to beat Jaaskelinen and secure a rare away win for the Lads.
Ivan Klasnic thought he had snatched a point when his header across the face of goal gave Simon Mignolet no chance to cancel out Bolo Zenden's first half strike, but Sunderland's rugged and persistent style paid off.
Having seen the team sheets, many a Sunderland fan would have been forgiven for thinking this was going to be a long afternoon. But, Sunderland came out of the blocks fighting and took the game to Bolton. However, the Black Cats couldn't take advantage of numerous set pieces in the opening ten minutes. Somewhat against the run of play, the first major chance fell to Bolton. Kevin Davies' flick on fell at the feet of Matty Taylor, who saw his effort saved well by Mignolet. Sunderland continued to fight on however as Bolton's lack of discipline almost cost them. Sunderland finally delivered a decent set-piece, and Bardsley, unmarked in the middle of the box, disappointingly failed to test Jaaskelinen with his header.
The next period of the game belonged to Bolton, however, as Sunderland were pushed back. Danny Sturridge, Bolton's dangerous striker, looked sure to score after Mignolet had fumbled a seemingly simple Taylor shot, but was thwarted by a superb last ditch tackle by the excellent Anton Ferdinand. However, Sturridge would go even closer minutes later, when his shot from the edge of the area took a wicked deflection off Bardsley that beat Mignolet and thundered off the crossbar.
Sunderland would have been expected to role over at this point. However, the Lads would get the breakthrough in the final moments of the first half. Malbranque's challenge to win the ball on the edge of his own box had Bolton fans incensed, but Sunderland quickly broke with an effective counter attack with Sessegnon playing a defence splitting ball through to Zenden, whose intelligent run broke the offside trap and allowed him to go one-on-one with Jaaskelinen. Zenden coolly rounded the keeper and slotted home to give Sunderland, on balance of possession, a deserved first half lead with Colback and Zenden particularly impressive in the centre of the park, showing creativity, intelligence and combativity in the centre of the pitch.
The second half saw Bolton take a more attacking approach. Sturridge another chance 5 minutes into the half when he flashed his shot wide with only Mignolet to beat. Bardsley would be on hand to foil the striker again, when his effort beat Mignolet but was headed wide by the fans player of the season. Sunderland had defended superbly and Bolton began to grow increasingly desperate. Hope was seemingly lost until Kalinic got his head on an excellent ball from Moreno. Bolton must have surely thought they had won it when a rebound fell to Davies with Mignolet stranded. But, Bardsley, one of the stars of today, was on hand again to deflect the ball over the bar to seemingly secure a point. That was until Muntari snatched all three and sent Sunderland's large travelling support into raptures.
Sunderland can take numerous positives out of this game. Firstly, the team seemed to have rediscovered the team spirit that has been lacking for some time. The players made some heroic blocks and were very much up for this game. Secondly, there is the performance of the defence. Who would have honestly believed that a centre-half pairing of the injury-prone Mensah and inconsistent Ferdinand would have produced the best defensive performance since Arsenal? Finally, the threat of relegation has been well and truly lifted, meaning Bruce can hopefully give more opportunities to our crop of young players who are no doubt chomping at the bit to get a chance. A great result for the team and an important one for in particular for Bruce
Sunderland: Mignolet 7, Onouha 7, Ferdinand 8, Mensah 8, Bardsley 8, Elmohamady 6, Zenden 7, Colback 8, Henderson 6, Malbranque 6 (Muntari 85) Sessegnon 8
Man of the Match: Jack Colback