MUCH the most interesting thing about this game was Michael Laudrup’s decision to introduce Sunderland target Danny Graham as a 75th-minute substitute.
If what we are led to believe is true, the Gateshead-born striker is little more than 24 hours away from playing for the team he was asked to play against last night.
And the Newcastle-supporting striker – already in a difficult position with some Sunderland fans chanting his name before his introduction and others barracking him when he came on – could have made a disastrous start to his embryonic Black Cats career by scoring a Swans winner with virtually the last kick of last night’s game.
If he had done, it would have at least have given the neutrals a real talking point – most notably Sky, whose producers and commentators must have been near despair as an attritional and largely event-free 90 minutes played out in front of an underwhelmed audience .
Sunderland fans inside the Stadium of Light, who were understandably subdued as a flat game unfolded, were downcast not to see their in-form side reel off a third win in a row against a Swansea side that were solid, rather than spectacular, opponents.
But of the two sides, the Black Cats had to be happier with the point – as two shots on target from the home side, in comparison to 15 from the visitors underlined.
And yet it is a measure of how far Sunderland have come in the six weeks since a win over Reading lifted them out of the relegation zone that a point from a game against ninth-placed Swansea, unbeaten now in seven games, should be viewed with such disappointment by the home fans.
Their team had gone into the game with high hopes after wins over West Ham and Wigan and it was no surprise that Sunderland were unchanged from the side which prevailed at the DW Stadium, which meant David Vaughan and new signing Alfred N’ Diaye continuing in a midfield three alongside Seb Larsson while Adam Johnson took the left wing and Stephane Sessegnon the right.
But from the outset the packed centre of the park ensured a tight, tactical battle with defence’s dominating and on the mildest of winter’s night, the game got off to the most lukewarm of starts.
There was only one incident of note in the first 10 minutes and that Itay Shechter – the on-loan striker also a lone striker on the night – going down under a kick from John O’Shea as a ball into the area eluded both players.
Replays suggested it was a penalty but neither O’Shea, Martin O’Neill, Michael Laudrup or – most importantly referee Andre Marriner – saw it that way in real time.
And the Israeli didn’t help his case by flinging himself to the ground, much to O’Shea’s disgust.
It did at least raise the temperature a couple of degrees after that tepid start and as the game gradually warmed up, it was the visitors who applied most of the heat, Nathan Dyer curling a shot wide of the post, Michu forcing a fine block from Craig Gardner, and Chico seeing his effort blocked by Simon Mignolet.
It was all Swansea at this stage, with Sunderland’s only respite a Seb Larsson free-kick towards the near post that Swansea keeper Gerhard Tremmel parried.
It was a different story after the break, as Sunderland got off to a flying start, dominating possession, with Stephane Sessegnon suddenly sparking into mesmerising life,
Leon Britton was yellow-carded for pulling back Sessegnon in the 57th minute as the African drove at the Swansea defence but Sunderland were unable to turn this purple patch into clear-cut chances and gradually their momentum ebbed.
Both sides made changes, James McClean replacing N’Diaye; Roland Lamah coming on for Hernandez, and Swansea’s new man almost immediately got on the end of a ball into the box only to be thwarted by Mignolet, who a couple of minutes later denied Ki from long range.
Sunderland had gone off the boil a little by this stage but they rallied and the last quarter-of-an-hour was given added spice by Graham’s arrival on the pitch.
Swansea had a great chance to snatch the lead in the 80th minute when Dyer won possession from Vaughan, fed Michu down the right and when the Spaniard pulled the ball back, Dyer drove his first-time shot wide at the near post.
It was as good as opening as any in a poor game, but another one came on the stroke of full-time when Jonathan de Guzman’s ball into the area was turned by Michu to the feet of Graham whose shot on goal was charged down at point-blank range by Titus Bramble.
Much has been made of Graham’s Tyneside roots and the fact that he was barracked last night by a section of Sunderland supporters.
But the man who denied him a goal last night – and therefore improved the striker’s chances of getting any Sunderland career off to a better start – was also once strongly associated with Newcastle and those links have never been a problem for the defender.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet 7, Gardner 7, O’SHEA 7, Bramble 7, Colback 6, Sessegnon 6, Larsson 5, N’Diaye 5 (McClean 67, 5), Vaughan 5, Johnson 5 (Wickham 84, 5), Fletcher 5. Subs not used: Westwood, Bardsley, Kilgallon, Mangane, Elmohamady.
SWANSEA CITY: Tremmel 6, Tiendalli 6, Flores 7, Williams 7, Davies 7, Britton 6 (Graham 75, 6), de Guzman 7, Dyer 8, MICHU 8, Hernandez 5 (Lamah 67, 5), Shecter 5 (Ki 60, 6). Subs not used: Cornell, Bartley, Routledge, Rangel.
Man of the match: John O’Shea. Commanding at the back.
Highlight: For the fans – at least the weather was mild.
Lowlight: The barracking of prospective signing Danny Graham from a section of home fans will have done nothing to improve any desire the striker might have to come to the club.
Bookings: Tiandelli (Swansea) 20, Britton (Swansea) 57, McClean (Sunderland) 74
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)