Just as the referees’ apparent lack of fitness stole the headlines in the aftermath of Sunderland’s last game, their latest encounter – and encouraging performance – was lost amongst the furore surrounding that red balloon.
Journalists, match officials, and former referees were left to scramble through the rule book to work out whether the goal should have been chalked off, as confusion reigned at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
But right or not, the kafuffle should not be used to mask another impressive performance by Steve Bruce’s rapidly improving Wearsiders. With a squad that retained its Premier League status by the skin of its teeth last time out, Bruce knew he needed to spend some of new owner Ellis Short’s cash quick in order to propel the club in the right direction. And spend he has.
Michael Turner may have been overpriced but his defensive qualities have immediately shored up a previously weak back line. The midfield, too often overrun last season, has been given extra bite by Lorik Cana and the impressive Lee Cattermole – who is surely close to an international call up.
But there is no prize for guessing which new signing has taken most of the headlines this year. Darren Bent’s twittering antics may have given his protracted transfer from Spurs a rather shambolic conclusion, but his impact cannot be underestimated with eight goals already this term.
All of a sudden, Sunderland are a team on the up, and after gathering four points from Liverpool and Manchester United in recent weeks, have shown they can upset the football odds and compete with the best. In fact, they should have beaten Sir Alex Ferguson’s men at Old Trafford, with only Anton Ferdinand’s agonising own goal rescuing a point for the Red Devils.
And red balloons aside, the Black Cats were well worth their win against Liverpool. They could and should have had more goals and although the seven minutes of stoppage time meant they were hanging on, the win was more comfortable than the narrow scoreline suggests.
So while Sunderland fans may feel a bit miffed at the lack of credit offered to their side in recent weeks, it seems a safe Premier League bet that if they maintain their level of performance, even greater praise will be heading their way over the course of the season.